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Keywords:

  • Dolphins;
  • eco-physiology;
  • Gray whale;
  • marine mammals;
  • migrations;
  • omega 3;
  • omega 6 fatty acids;
  • stable isotope

Abstract

The radiation of the mammalian land species that became the baleen whales happened about 27–34 Mya. Mammals require omega 6 fatty acids for reproduction. With this long exposure to the omega 3-rich marine food chain, the Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) might be expected to have lost its requirement for omega 6 fatty acids. We report an unexpectedly high content of omega 6 arachidonic acid (ArA) in the Gray whale liver and muscle lipids. This whale migrates 10,000 km from the cold polar, omega 3 oil-rich food chain to that of the breeding lagoons of the tropical waters. The food web of tropical waters is a source of omega 6 fatty acids, which are hardly present in the cold polar food web. We suggest the reason for this longest of migrations from cold to warm waters is to meet the requirement for omega 6 fatty acids for mammalian reproduction and brain growth. This extreme conservation of omega 6 fatty acids in Gray whale biology has critical implications for mammalian biology and especially for whale conservation.