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J Exp Biol. 2002 Dec;205(Pt 23):3601-8.

Aerobic capacities in the skeletal muscles of Weddell seals: key to longer dive durations?

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75390, USA.


In contrast to terrestrial animals that function under hypoxic conditions but display the typical exercise response of increasing ventilation and cardiac output, marine mammals exercise under a different form of hypoxic stress. They function for the duration of a dive under progressive asphyxia, which is the combination of increasing hypoxia, hypercapnia and acidosis. Our previous studies on short-duration, shallow divers found marked adaptations in their skeletal muscles, which culminated in enhanced aerobic capacities that are similar to those of athletic terrestrial mammals. The purpose of the present study was to assess the aerobic capacity of skeletal muscles from long-duration divers. Swimming and non-swimming muscles were collected from adult Weddell seals, Leptonychotes weddelli, and processed for morphometric analysis, enzymology, myoglobin concentrations and fiber-type distribution. The results showed that the skeletal muscles of Weddell seals do not have enhanced aerobic capacities compared with those of terrestrial mammals but are adapted to maintain low levels of an aerobic lipid-based metabolism, especially under the hypoxic conditions associated with diving. The lower aerobic capacity of Weddell seal muscle as compared with that of shorter-duration divers appears to reflect their energy-conserving modes of locomotion, which enable longer and deeper dives.

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