Effects of handling regime and sex on changes in cortisol, thyroid hormones and body mass in fasting grey seal pups

Kimberley A. Bennett, Simon E. W. Moss, P. P. Pomeroy, John R. Speakman, Mike A. Fedak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Survival of seal pups may be affected by their ability to respond appropriately to stress. Chronic stress can adversely affect secretion of cortisol and thyroid hormones, which contribute to the control of fuel utilisation. Repeated handling could disrupt the endocrine response to stress and/or negatively impact upon mass changes during fasting. Here we investigated the effects of handling regime on cortisol and thyroid hormone levels, and body mass changes, in fasting male and female grey seal pups (Halichoerus grypus). Females had higher thyroid hormone levels than males throughout fasting and showed a reduction in cortisol midway through the fast that was not seen in males. This may reflect sex-specific fuel allocation or development. Neither handling frequency nor cumulative contact time affected plasma cortisol or thyroid hormone levels, the rate of increase in cortisol over the first five minutes of physical contact or the pattern of mass loss during fasting in either sex. The endocrine response to stress and the control of energy balance in grey seal pups appear to be robust to repeated, short periods of handling. Our results suggest that routine handling should have no additional impact on these animals than general disturbance caused by researchers moving around the colony.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-76
Number of pages8
JournalComparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular & integrative physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Glucocorticoid
  • Handling frequency
  • Phocid
  • Postweaning fast
  • Stress
  • T3
  • T4


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