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Keywords:

  • harbor seal;
  • Phoca vitulina richardii;
  • adrenal;
  • cortisol;
  • aldosterone;
  • adrenocorticotrophic hormone;
  • herpesvirus

Abstract

Adrenal function in harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) was evaluated using adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) stimulation tests and fecal cortisol levels. The effect of ACTH administration on plasma cortisol and aldosterone levels in five free-living and 14 rehabilitated harbor seal pups was determined using enzyme immunoassay and radioimmunoassay, respectively. In free-living seals, injection of ACTH caused a significant increase in mean plasma cortisol but not of mean aldosterone levels 60 min postinjection. In these seals, mean initial plasma aldosterone was significantly higher than initial levels in rehabilitated seals, while initial cortisol levels were similar. Of the rehabilitated seals, eight died with adrenal cortical necrosis associated with herpesvirus inclusions, while six lived to be released. In the seals that were released, both mean initial cortisol levels and response to ACTH decreased through rehabilitation. In the seals that died, mean initial cortisol and response to ACTH increased through rehabilitation. The differences between initial cortisol levels in seals that lived and those that died were significant at weeks two and four of rehabilitation but not at the week of admission. There was considerable individual variation in initial plasma aldosterone levels and responses to ACTH, although initial aldosterone levels were significantly higher in rehabilitated seals that died than in seals that lived. Seals with adrenal necrosis associated with herpesvirus infection did not have decreased adrenal hormone responses to ACTH. Differences between initial hormone levels and responses to ACTH in different groups of seals may be associated with differing stress levels. Fecal cortisol assays were not a useful method of assessing adrenal function in these seals, as measured levels did not correlate with plasma cortisol levels.