Pineal and Thyroid Functions in Newborn Seals

Karl Arne Stokkan, Mary K. Vaughan, Russel J. Reiter, Lars P. Folkow, Per Erik Martensson, Georg Sager, Christian Lydersen, Arnoldus Schytte Blix

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Daily variations of pineal and plasma melatonin and plasma thyroid hormones were measured in harp seals (Phoca groenlandica), grey seals (Halichoerus grypus), and hooded seals (Cystophora cristata), ranging in age from newborn to 14 days. In newborn harp seals the mean mass of the pineal gland was 273 mg (±45 SEM, n = 11), containing 49 ng (median) melatonin. In newborn, 4- and 10-day-old grey seals, the pineal mass was similar, weighing on average 337 mg (± 74, n = 6) and containing 90 ng melatonin. Two newborn hooded seal pups had pineals weighing 520 and 1289 mg, with 254 and 7600 ng melatonin, respectively. There were no day-night differences in the pineal contents of melatonin or in the number of pineal β-adrenergic receptors measured in newborn harp seals, and, in newborn, 4- and 10-day-old grey seals, there were no day-night or age differences in pineal melatonin content. Plasma melatonin levels were 10 times higher in newborn seals than in two 10-day-old grey seals and one 14-day-old harp seals pup. In all seal pups, the levels exhibited a 24-hr rhythmicity, with increasing night- and decreasing daytime concentrations. Plasma levels of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) were generally higher in newborn seals than in 10- and 14-day-old seals or in adult females. There was no apparent 24-hr rhythmicity, but the thyroid hormone levels generally declined throughout each sampling sequence. High pineal and thyroid activities may play a thermoregulatory role in newborn seal, but the results do not indicate a stimulatory action of melatonin in the peripheral conversion of T4 to T3. It is speculated that the large and active pineal gland, particularly in newborn seals, may be related to aspects of their diving habit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-331
Number of pages11
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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