Because thyroid hormones play a critical role in the regulation of metabolism, the low metabolic rates reported for manatees suggest that thyroid hormone concentrations in these animals may also be reduced. However, thyroid hormone concentrations have yet to be examined in manatees. The effects of captivity, diet and water salinity on plasma total triiodothyronine (tT(3)), total thyroxine (tT(4)) and free thyroxine (fT(4)) concentrations were assessed in adult West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus). Free-ranging manatees exhibited significantly greater tT(4) and fT(4) concentrations than captive adults, regardless of diet, indicating that some aspect of a captive existence results in reduced T(4) concentrations. To determine whether this reduction might be related to feeding, captive adults fed on a mixed vegetable diet were switched to a strictly sea grass diet, resulting in decreased food consumption and a decrease in body mass. However, tT(4) and fT(4) concentrations were significantly elevated over initial values for 19 days. This may indicate that during periods of reduced food consumption manatees activate thyroid-hormone-promoted lipolysis to meet water and energetic requirements. Alterations in water salinity for captive animals did not induce significant changes in thyroid hormone concentrations. In spite of lower metabolic rates, thyroid hormone concentrations in captive manatees were comparable with those for other terrestrial and marine mammals, suggesting that the low metabolic rate in manatees is not attributable to reduced circulating thyroid hormone concentrations.

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