Brain size in neonatal and adult Weddell seals: Costs and consequences of having a large brain

Authors


Abstract

Little is known about the ontogeny of brain size in pinnipeds despite potential functional implications of brain substrate (glucose, oxygen) requirements for diving, fasting, growth, and lactation strategies. We measured brain mass (brM) and cranial capacity (CC) in newborn and adult Weddell seals. Neonatal Weddell seals had brM that represented ~70% of adult brM. Weddell seals have the largest neonatal brain, proportional to adult brain, reported for any mammal to date, which is remarkable considering the relatively small size of Weddell seal pups at birth (6%–7% of maternal body mass) compared to neonates of other highly precocial mammals. Provision of sufficient glucose to maintain the large, well-developed brain of the neonatal Weddell seal has a nontrivial metabolic cost to both pup and mother. We therefore hypothesize that this phenomenon must have functional significance, such as allowing pups to acquire complex under-ice navigation skills during the period of maternal attendance.

Ancillary