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J Exp Biol. 2004 Apr;207(Pt 10):1615-24.

Metabolic rates of captive grey seals during voluntary diving.

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  • 1Sea Mammal Research Unit, Gatty Marine Laboratory, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland, UK, KY16 8LB.


The energetic cost of diving in marine mammals is a difficult value to derive given the problems of assessing metabolic rate for an animal at sea. Nevertheless, it is fundamental to our understanding of the foraging strategies of air-breathers exploiting underwater food sources. We measured the metabolic rates of eight captive grey seals, voluntarily diving in a quasi-natural setting. Oxygen consumption during post-dive surface periods was measured using open-flow respirometry, and dive behaviour of the seals was recorded using time depth recorders (TDRs). Mean diving metabolic rate (DMR) for both adults and juveniles was 1.7 times the predicted standard metabolic rate of terrestrial animals of equal size. For all animals, DMR was lower than the rate of metabolism measured whilst they were resting at the water's surface. On a dive-by-dive basis, DMR decreased with dive duration but increased with mean swim speed. Regressing the maximum 5% of DMRs against dive duration resulted in a significant negative relationship that was not significantly different from the relationship between the calculated maximum rate of aerobic metabolism and dive duration, suggesting that these seals were diving within, and up to, their aerobic limits. We developed a model that allows the prediction of DMR from information on dive behaviour of the type routinely collected in telemetry studies of wild seals. The model accurately predicts DMR using behavioural data from periods of diving with known metabolism data. This model can be used to predict the at-sea metabolic rate of wild grey seals, an important input into ecosystem models.

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