Backgound: Seal reproductive systems are surrounded by thermogenic muscle and insulating blubber, suggesting elevated temperatures at the gonads and uterus. In the limbs of terrestrial mammals, cooled blood returning from superficial veins is mixed proximally with warm blood returning from deep veins. Thus, mixed cool-superficial and warmdeep venous blood from the hind limbs is returned to the central circulation.
Methods: We describe structures observed in salvaged carcasses of harbor (Phoca vitulina), gray (Haliochoerus gryphus), harp (Phoca groendlandica), hooded (Cystophora cristata), and ringed (Phoca hispida) seals. Vessels were identified by dissection of injected and uninjected material.
Results: In contrast to terrestrial mammals, phocid seals have anastomoses between the veins of the distal hind limb and the pelvis which allow large volumes of cool blood returning from the skin surface of the flipper to enter the gluteal, pelvic, or pudendo-epigastric veins. This provides a cool-superficial venous return that remains separate from the warm-deep venous return of the femoral veins. The cooled venous blood from the hind flippers supplies venous plexuses lining the inguinal region and the abdominal and pelvic cavities.
Conclusions: Cooled blood may prevent hyperthermic insult to seal reproductive systems. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.