Urinary glucocorticoids in harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) pups during rehabilitation

The glucocorticoid (GC) hormone cortisol is often measured in seals to indicate their stress levels, although other endogenous GCs are usually overlooked. We investigated concentrations of four endogenous GCs in the urine of “orphan” harbour seal pups in rehabilitation. We hypothesised that the GC levels would be elevated if pups were socially isolated, without water access, and with low body mass. Ninety-six samples were collected from 32 pups at four different rehabilitation centres and were analysed by Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography and Tandem Mass Spectrometry. Median urinary creatinine (Cr) concentrations of endogenous prednisolone (31.6 ng/mg/Cr) and prednisone (31.1 ng/mg/Cr) occurred in similar magnitude to cortisol (37.0 ng/mg/Cr), while median cortisone concentrations were higher (390 ng/mg/Cr). Prednisolone and prednisone concentrations were more strongly inversely related to pup growth rate and pup mass than cortisol and cortisone. Concentrations of all four GCs decreased with mass gain for pups with water access but did not decrease for pups without water; linear mixed models indicated the interaction between these trends was significant for cortisol and cortisone, but not for prednisolone or prednisone. These results indicate the potential value of measuring all four of these endogenous GC hormones in phocid seal pups.
Publication history: Accepted - 8 February 2023; Published online - 10 February 2023
Harbor seal, Cortisol, Glucocorticoid, Rehabilitation, Stress, Environment
Wilson, S.C., Villanueva, S., Jones, K.A., Dmitrieva, L. and Smyth, W. (2023) ‘Urinary glucocorticoids in harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) pups during rehabilitation’, General and Comparative Endocrinology. Elsevier BV. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2023.114227.