Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Maternity Ward

This newborn reaches up to nurse. Weighing in at 65-80 pounds ata birth, pups gain as much as ten pounds a day for the month that they nurse.

Elephant seal milk can be as much as 63 percent fat. The fat content rises as lactation proceeds over the month of lactation. The mother fasts during the entire time. Water produced for milk must be produced metabolically. She conserves her own reserves by producing less dilute milk.

Marianne Riedman studied elephant seal milk and found herself so attracted to its creamy white color, "like rich vanilla ice cream," that she couldn't resist tasting it.

"The milk did not taste like ice cream or anything else I had eaten before," she reports in The Pinnipeds. "It had no sweetness but rather a nutty blandness and a waxy texture, probably due to its abundant fat."

Her milk collection method is as intrepid as you would imagine it would need to be. After all, how do you get milk from an elephant seal? The temptation is to say, Very carefully, but it's more complicated than that.

She cobbled together a vacuum system made from an old fire extinguisher, which she strapped to her back. She operated the vacuum by pressing valves with her hand. With a funnel attached to the end of a nine-foot pole, connected to vacuum tubing and a small container for the milk, she'd sneak up on a nursing mother and maneuver the funnel over the teat. A few quick sucks were usually all she could get before the mother noticed that it wasn't a pup sucking on her.

"Enraged, she would invariably hiss threateningly or charge me, prompting me to retreat quickly to a safer location," she writes.

Anything for science!

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