Thermal windows on the trunk of hauled-out seals: Hot spots for thermoregulatory evaporation?

Björn Mauck*, Kerstin Bilgmann, Daryl D. Jones, Ulf Eysel, Guido Dehnhardt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


Seals have adapted to the high heat transfer coefficient in the aquatic environment by effective thermal insulation of the body core. While swimming and diving, excess metabolic heat is supposed to be dissipated mainly over the sparsely insulated body appendages, whereas the location of main heat sinks in hauled-out seals remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate thermal windows on the trunk of harbour seals, harp seals and a grey seal examined under various ambient temperatures using infrared thermography. Thermograms were analysed for location, size and development of thermal windows. Thermal windows were observed in all experimental sessions, shared some common characteristics in all seals and tended to reappear in similar body sites of individual seals. Nevertheless, the observed variations in order and location of appearance, number, size and shape of thermal windows would imply no special anatomical site for this avenue of heat loss. Based on our findings, we suggest that, in hauled-out seals, heat may be transported by blood flow to a small area of the wet body surface where the elevation of temperature facilitates evaporation of water trapped within the seals' pelages due to increased saturation vapour pressure. The comparatively large latent heat necessary for evaporation creates a temporary hot spot for heat dissipation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1727-1738
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - May 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Evaporation
  • Halichoerus grypus
  • Heat dissipation
  • Phoca groenlandica
  • Phoca vitulina
  • Seal
  • Thermal window
  • Thermoregulation


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