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Reference Values for Serum Biochemical Parameters in Free-Ranging Harp Seals


Corresponding author: Erling S. Nordøy, Department of Arctic Biology, University of Tromsø, Breivika, N-9037 Tromsø, Norway (


Background — The harp seal (Phoca groenlandica) is one of the most important predators in the Northeastern Atlantic ecosystem. Establishing biochemical reference intervals is important for evaluating the health status of harp seals kept in captivity and for evaluating the effects of environmental changes on the health of populations in the wild.

Objective — The purpose of this study was to determine reference values for serum biochemical parameters in wild adult harp seals using readily available current methods.

Methods — Blood samples were obtained from 14 adult female harp seals and 9 suckling pups on the pack ice of the Greenland Sea in early March 1998. Seven seals were humanely killed on the ice by permission of the Norwegian Directory for Fisheries and in conjunction with several other research projects. The seals were sampled within 15 minutes postmortem. Remaining seals were captured alive and sampled via the extradural intravertebral vein. Serum biochemical parameters were measured using a Technicon Axon analyzer and included electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium), substrates (free fatty acids, triglycerides, fructosamine, and glucose), end products (urea and uric acid), and proteins (total protein, globulins, and albumin). Serum protein electrophoresis also was done. Data were tested for normality and reference limits were calculated as mean ±1.96 × SD. Results between groups were compared using 2-tailed t-tests.

Results — Serum levels of glucose and triglycerides were lower, but serum levels of urea were higher in dead animals than in animals that were captured alive. Serum levels for 7 of 17 parameters were significantly different in pups compared with adults. Separate reference intervals were calculated for adult seals and seal pups.

Conclusion — Both sampling method and age should be considered when evaluating the results of analysis of serum parameters in wild and captive harp seals.