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Interannual and individual variation in milk composition of New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri)

Riet-Sapriza, Federico G., Duignan, Pádraig J., Chilvers, B. Louise, Wilkinson, Ian S., Lopez-Villalobos, Nicolás, Mackenzie, Duncan D. S., MacGibbon, Alastair, Costa, Dan P., Gales, Nick
Journal of mammalogy 2012 v.93 no.4 pp. 1006-1016
Phocarctos hookeri, body condition, breeding, early lactation, energy content, females, fisheries, food availability, islands, lipids, milk, milk fat, milk quality, population dynamics, pups, reproductive success, statistical models
In this study 308 milk samples were collected and analyzed from 181 individual female New Zealand sea lions (NZ sea lions; Phocarctos hookeri) breeding on Enderby Island (Auckland Islands). Samples were collected from the 1st part of early lactation (January and February) over a period of 7 years (1997, 1999–2003, and 2005). The effect of year, month, and maternal characteristics (body mass, body condition index [BCI], and age class) on the composition of milk was evaluated using a mixed model for repeated measures. The gross composition (± SD) of the milk was lipid (21.3% ± 8.1%), protein (9.4% ± 2.4%), water (67.9% ± 8.8%), ash (0.48% ± 0.06%), and energy content (10.3 ± 3.2 kJ/g). Overall, the quality of milk of the NZ sea lions in this study was relatively lower in solids and fats than that of other pinnipeds and, in particular, other sea lion species. There were significant effects of year and month on the concentration of lipids in milk, and of year and maternal age class on maternal body mass and BCI. There were significant relationships between various maternal characteristics and milk composition. Thus, the concentration of milk lipids was significantly correlated with maternal BCI, body mass, and pup age. Given that NZ sea lions are a nationally critical species in decline, the relationship between the temporal (yearly and monthly) variations in milk composition, maternal body mass, reproductive success, and changes in food supply in relation to natural perturbations or fisheries resource competition warrants further investigation to disentangle this relationship and implement appropriate management initiatives.