Original Paper

Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 166, Issue 8, pp 473-483

First online:

Physiological and behavioral determinants of the aerobic dive limit in Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) Pups

  • J. M. BurnsAffiliated withInstitute of Marine Science, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks Email author 
  • , M. A. CastelliniAffiliated withInstitute of Marine Science, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks

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The aerobic dive limit, as defined by an increase in plasma lactate levels following dives, has to date only been determined in adult and juvenile Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii). However, theoretical aerobic dive limits based on calculated total body oxygen stores, estimated metabolic rates, and dive duration frequencies have been published for several species. Using data collected over the past 3 years in McMurdo Sound. Antarctica, the aerobic dive limit of Weddell seal pups was determined by both the physiological and modeling methods. Time-depth diving recorders deployed on 36 pups between 2 and 14 weeks of age allowed the aerobic dive limit to be predicted from duration-frequency histograms. The aerobic dive limit was also calculated from estimates of total body oxygen stores and predicted diving metabolic rates. Finally, these two estimates were compared with aerobic dive limits determined from post-dive lactate levels in three pups between 5 and 7 weeks old. The aerobic dive limits of pups increased with age, but pup aerobic dive limits were still significantly shorter than those of yearlings and adults. In addition, the aerobic dive limits determined by the three methods were not equivalent for pups, yearlings, or adults, and indicate that care should be taken when modeling methods are used to estimate the aerobic dive limit in other species. Changes in hematocrit, plasma glucose, and plasma lactate levels during and between rest, diving, and recovery in pups were compared to known values for juveniles and adults. Plasma metabolite levels were more highly regulated in older pups, and together with the increasing aerobic dive limit, suggest that Weddell seal pups are not refined divers until after they are weaned, and that their diving ability continues to develop over several years.

Key words

Aerobic dive limit Weddell seal Diving physiology Development Lactate