Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 187, Issue 1, pp 29–50 | Cite as

Physiological constraints and energetic costs of diving behaviour in marine mammals: a review of studies using trained Steller sea lions diving in the open ocean

  • David A. S. RosenEmail author
  • Allyson G. Hindle
  • Carling D. Gerlinsky
  • Elizabeth Goundie
  • Gordon D. Hastie
  • Beth L. Volpov
  • Andrew W. Trites


Marine mammals are characterized as having physiological specializations that maximize the use of oxygen stores to prolong time spent under water. However, it has been difficult to undertake the requisite controlled studies to determine the physiological limitations and trade-offs that marine mammals face while diving in the wild under varying environmental and nutritional conditions. For the past decade, Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) trained to swim and dive in the open ocean away from the physical confines of pools participated in studies that investigated the interactions between diving behaviour, energetic costs, physiological constraints, and prey availability. Many of these studies measured the cost of diving to understand how it varies with behaviour and environmental and physiological conditions. Collectively, these studies show that the type of diving (dive bouts or single dives), the level of underwater activity, the depth and duration of dives, and the nutritional status and physical condition of the animal affect the cost of diving and foraging. They show that dive depth, dive and surface duration, and the type of dive result in physiological adjustments (heart rate, gas exchange) that may be independent of energy expenditure. They also demonstrate that changes in prey abundance and nutritional status cause sea lions to alter the balance between time spent at the surface acquiring oxygen (and offloading CO2 and other metabolic by-products) and time spent at depth acquiring prey. These new insights into the physiological basis of diving behaviour further our understanding of the potential scope for behavioural responses of marine mammals to environmental changes, the energetic significance of these adjustments, and the consequences of approaching physiological limits.


Diving physiology Steller sea lions Metabolism Foraging 



The studies we described reflect the tremendous efforts of a large team of researchers, graduate students, research assistants, trainers, and veterinary staff. We would particularly like to acknowledge the contributions of Andreas Fahlman to the research program and to this manuscript. We would also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their suggestions on improving this review. The research was funded through a number of sources, including grants provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (Canada) and from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium through the North Pacific Marine Science Foundation. All studies were carried out under Animal Care Permits issued by the Vancouver Aquarium and the University of British Columbia.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. S. Rosen
    • 1
    Email author return OK on get
  • Allyson G. Hindle
    • 1
  • Carling D. Gerlinsky
    • 1
  • Elizabeth Goundie
    • 1
  • Gordon D. Hastie
    • 1
  • Beth L. Volpov
    • 1
  • Andrew W. Trites
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Mammal Research Unit, Institute for the Oceans and FisheriesUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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