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J Exp Biol. 2003 May;206(Pt 9):1461-70.

Factors affecting stroking patterns and body angle in diving Weddell seals under natural conditions.

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  • 1National Institute of Polar Research, 1-9-10 Kaga, Itabashi, Tokyo 173-8515, Japan.


Aquatic animals use a variety of strategies to reduce the energetic cost of locomotion. Efficient locomotion is particularly important for breath-holding divers because high levels of exercise may quickly deplete oxygen reserves, leading to the termination of a dive. We investigated the swimming behavior of eight adult Weddell seals, which are proficient divers, in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. A newly developed data logger was attached to free-ranging females at their own breeding sites to record swimming speed, depth, two-dimensional accelerations (stroke frequency and body angle) and temperature. All seals conducted multiple deep dives (the mean dive depth range for each animal was 223.3+/-66.5-297.9+/-164.7 m). Prolonged gliding while descending was observed with thinner females (N=5 seals). But the fatter females (N=3 seals) exhibited only swim-and-glide swimming, characterized by intermittent stroking and fluctuating swim speed, throughout their descent and ascent. The body angles of four of the seals were restricted to less than 30 degrees by the location of breathing holes in the ice and the slope of local bathymetric features. Of these four, the three fatter seals adopted the stroke-and-glide method while the other thinner seal descended with prolonged periods of gliding. Prolonged gliding seems to be a more efficient method for locomotion because the surface time between dives of gliding seals was significantly less than that of stroking animals, despite their same stroke frequencies.

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