• Validation and application of infrared thermography for the assessment of body condition in pinnipeds

      Nienaber, Jeanette (2009-08)
      Infrared thermography (IRT) was used to collect baseline information on skin surface temperatures of two species of pinnipeds, the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina; n = 6) and the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus; n = 2). The IRT technique was validated against objects of known temperature and through post-collection software manipulation of environmental parameters that influence IRT output (emissivity, distance, relative humidity, ambient temperature and reflected temperature). From February 2007 to February 2008, biweekly measurements were taken of skin surface temperature (FLIR P25 infrared camera) with subsequent measurements of blubber depth (SonoSite Vet 180 portable imaging ultrasound system) on captive individuals at the Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, Alaska. Once validated, skin surface temperatures in 10 defined regions (whole body, torso, head, eye, muzzle, shoulder, axillae, hip, fore and hind flipper) were used to determine seasonal variability as well as consistent hot or cold spots, and of those spots, which may act as thermal windows (defined areas of active heat loss and/or retention). Concurrent measurements of blubber depth were compared to skin surface temperatures at eight body sites to assess: a) the impact of insulation level on skin surface temperature on a site-specific scale, and b) the potential use of IRT as an alternative method for the non-invasive measurement of body condition. Both species varied seasonally in skin surface temperature from winter to reproductive and molt to winter, however, harbor seals had greater regional variation. Similar hot and cold spots were consistently recognized in both species with shoulder, axillae, fore and hind flipper identified as likely thermal windows. While some site-specific significant relationships were found between skin surface temperature and blubber thickness, insulation level alone explained a very small portion of the variance. Future studies to determine the factors influencing the variance on skin surface temperature (i.e., blood flow to the skin) warrant further exploration.