Metabolic regulation in diving birds and mammals

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Ducks, fur seals, Weddell seals and probably most cetaceans seem to be able to dive and remain aerobic for durations that are consistent with their elevated stores of usable oxygen and their metabolic rate while diving being similar to that when they are resting at the surface of the water. Ducks, in fact, have a high metabolic rate while diving, mainly because of their large positive buoyancy, but other species have relatively low buoyancy, are better streamlined and use lift-based rather than drag-based propulsion. However, species such as the larger penguins, grey seals and elephant seals seem to achieve the impossible by performing a substantial proportion of their dives for periods longer than would be expected on the above assumptions, and yet remaining aerobic. The logical conclusion is that during such dives these species reduce their metabolic rate below the resting level (hypometabolism) and, in some of them, there is a regional reduction in body temperature (hypothermia) which may contribute to the reduction in metabolic rate.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-315
Number of pages19
JournalRespiratory physiology & neurobiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2004