Energy metabolism in mobile, wild-sampled sharks inferred by plasma lipids

Austin J. Gallagher, Rachel A. Skubel, Heidi R. Pethybridge, Neil Hammerschlag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Evaluating how predators metabolize energy is increasingly useful for conservation physiology, as it can provide information on their current nutritional condition. However, obtaining metabolic information from mobile marine predators is inherently challenging owing to their relative rarity, cryptic nature and often wide-ranging underwater movements. Here, we investigate aspects of energy metabolism in four free-ranging shark species (n = 281; blacktip, bull, nurse, and tiger) by measuring three metabolic parameters [plasma triglycerides (TAG), free fatty acids (FFA) and cholesterol (CHOL)] via non-lethal biopsy sampling. Plasma TAG, FFA and total CHOL concentrations (in millimoles per litre) varied inter-specifically and with season, year, and shark length varied within a species. The TAG were highest in the plasma of less active species (nurse and tiger sharks), whereas FFA were highest among species with relatively high energetic demands (blacktip and bull sharks), and CHOL concentrations were highest in bull sharks. Although temporal patterns in all metabolites were varied among species, there appeared to be peaks in the spring and summer, with ratios of TAG/CHOL (a proxy for condition) in all species displaying a notable peak in summer. These results provide baseline information of energy metabolism in large sharks and are an important step in understanding how the metabolic parameters can be assessed through non-lethal sampling in the future. In particular, this study emphasizes the importance of accounting for intra-specific and temporal variability in sampling designs seeking to monitor the nutritional condition and metabolic responses of shark populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbercox002
JournalConservation Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Cholesterol
  • Fatty acid
  • Metabolite
  • Nutrition
  • Shark
  • Triglyceride

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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