The fatty acid composition of the blubber of five dusky dolphins Lagenorhynchus obscurus and five Cape fur seals Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus from the northern Benguela ecosystem (South-East Atlantic) and their main prey was determined. Differences in fatty acid composition of the inner and outer blubber layer of the dolphins were substantial, with higher relative amounts of monoenic fatty acids with 14, 16 and 18 carbons in the outer layer and higher relative amounts of saturated, long-chain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in the inner layer. This stratification is similar to the general pattern that has been observed in a variety of marine mammals, but the degree of stratification is the highest yet observed, with the long-chained (n3) fatty acids being more than 20 times more abundant in the inner than in the outer layer. On the other hand, the seals’ blubber consisted of only one uniform layer, densely supported by connective tissue. The whole-body fatty acid composition of the prey was species specific. The dolphins and seals had significantly different fatty acid composition of their blubber. In both species, the blubber fatty acid composition was different from the composition of the prey, indicating that a phylogenetic component is involved in the determination of the fatty acid composition of the blubber.
Keywords: blubber, diet, dolphins, fatty acid composition, seals, stratification
African Journal of Marine Science 2010, 32(2): 187–196