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Fetal growth, birth size and energetic cost of gestation in southern right whales

Christiansen, F., Uhart, M.M., Bejder, L., Clapham, P., Ivashchenko, Y., Tormosov, D., Lewin, N. and Sironi, M. (2022) Fetal growth, birth size and energetic cost of gestation in southern right whales. The Journal of Physiology, 600 (9). pp. 2245-2266.

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The cost of reproduction greatly affects a species’ life history strategy. Baleen whales exhibit some of the fastest offspring growth rates in the animal kingdom. We quantified the energetic cost of gestation for southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) by combining whaling catch records of pregnant females with photogrammetry data on southern right whale mothers and calves from two breeding grounds in Argentina and Australia. The relationship between calf birth size and maternal length was determined from repeated measurements of individual females before and after giving birth. Fetal growth was determined from generalized linear models fitted to fetal length data from whaling operations between 1961 and 1967. Fetal length was converted to volume and mass, using the volume-to-length relationship of newborn southern right whales calves, and published tissue composition and energy content estimates. Fetal maintenance costs (heat of gestation) and the energy content of the placenta were predicted from published relationships and added to the fetal growth cost to calculate the total cost of gestation. Our findings showed that fetal growth rates and birth size increased linearly with maternal length, with calves being born at ∼35% maternal length. Fetal length increased curvilinearly through gestation, which resulted in an exponential increase in fetal volume and mass. Consequently, the cost of gestation was very low during the first (0.1% of total cost) and second trimester (4.9%), but increased rapidly during the last trimester (95.0%). The heat of gestation incurred the highest cost for pregnant females (73.8%), followed by fetal growth (21.2%) and the placental energy content (5.0%).

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Copyright: © 2020 The Authors.
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