Scientia Marina, Vol 79, No 2 (2015)

Topographical variation in lipid content and morphological structure of the blubber in the striped dolphin

Encarna Gómez-Campos
Dpt. Animal Biology-Vertebrates and Institute of Biodiversity Research (IrBio), Faculty of Biology, University of Barcelona, Spain

Asunción Borrell
Dpt. Animal Biology-Vertebrates and Institute of Biodiversity Research (IrBio), Faculty of Biology, University of Barcelona, Spain

Jordi Correas
Dpt. Cell Biology, Faculty of Biology, University of Barcelona, Spain

Alex Aguilar
Dpt. Animal Biology-Vertebrates and Institute of Biodiversity Research (IrBio), Faculty of Biology, University of Barcelona, Spain


We investigate stratification patterns and topographical variations in the blubber of the striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) to gain insights into its regionally-specific functions. We collected blubber from 10 stranded striped dolphins (5 females and 5 males) from the eastern coast of Spain in 2007-2009, at 11 body positions. Histological measurements (adipocyte number and area) and blubber lipid content were analysed for each position. Histological measurements revealed stratification of blubber into outer, middle, and inner layers. Both the adipocyte number and area were largest in the middle layer. The adipocyte number was higher in the outer than the inner layer, whereas the adipocyte area was higher in the inner than the outer layer. The ventral anterior position did not follow this pattern, likely due to its proximity to the acoustic blubber, which is known to have a different biochemical composition. The stratification in morphological blubber characteristics most likely reflects functional differences. The outer layer may provide structural support and act as a mechanical barrier with a minor role in energy storage. The middle layer may be responsible for thermoregulation, and the inner layer could be responsible for energy mobilization, which is favoured by its proximity to the body core and a higher vascularization. In addition, an increasing gradient from dorsal to ventral positions was observed in the mean number of adipocytes and lipid content, with the exception of the caudal region. Although both ventral and dorsal blubber can have insulator and buoyancy functions, the ventral blubber may mainly serve as an energy reserve.


Stenella coeruleoalba; cetacean; adipocytes; histology; stratification; lipid content

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