Metabolic limits on dive duration and swimming speed in the southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina

M. A. Hindell*, M. A. Lea, M. G. Morrice, C. R. MacMahon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The ability of air-breathing marine predators to forage successfully depends on their ability to remain submerged. This is in turn related to their total O2 stores and the rate at which these stores are used up while submerged. Body size was positively related to dive duration in a sample of 34 adult female southern elephant seals from Macquarie Island. However, there was no relationship between body size and dive depth. This indicates that smaller seals, with smaller total O2 stores, make shorter dives than larger individuals but operate at similar depths, resulting in less time being spent at depth. Nine adult female elephant seals were also equipped with velocity time depth recorders. In eight of these seals, a plot of swimming speed against dive duration revealed a cloud of points with a clear upper boundary. This boundary could be described using regression analysis and gave a significant negative relationship in most cases. These results indicate that metabolic rate varies with activity levels, as indicated by swimming speed, and that there are quantifiable limits to the distance that a seal can travel on a dive of a given swimming speed. However, the seals rarely dive to these physiological limits, and the majority of their dives are well within their aerobic capacity. Elephant seals therefore appear to dive in a way that ensures that they have a reserve of O2 available.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)790-798
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


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