CARDIAC RESPONSES OF GRAY SEALS DURING DIVING AT SEA

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Abstract

Heart rate, swimming speed and diving depth data were collected from free-ranging grey seals, Halichoerus grypus, as they foraged and travelled in the sea around the Hebrides Islands off western Scotland. Information was collected on a tracking yacht using a combination of sonic and radio telemetry. Diving heart rate declined as a function of dive duration. In long dives, grey seals employed extreme bradycardia, with heart rates falling to 4 beats min-1 for extended periods, despite the animal being free to breathe at will. This extreme dive response is part of the normal foraging behaviour. Seals spent 89 % of the time submerged during bouts of long dives; swimming was restricted to ascent and descent. Dive durations exceeded estimated aerobic dive limit, even assuming resting metabolic rates. These results indicate that behavioural, and possibly cellular, energy-sparing mechanisms play an important role in diving behaviour of grey seals. This has implications not only for studies of mammalian energetics but also for our understanding of the foraging tactics and prey selection of marine mammals. If some seals are using energy-sparing mechanisms to reduce metabolic costs while at depth, they may be forced to wait for and ambush prey rather than to search for and chase it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-164
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Volume174
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1993

Keywords

  • DIVING BEHAVIOR
  • HEART RATE
  • BRADYCARDIA
  • AEROBIC DIVING
  • HALICHOERUS-GRYPUS
  • SOUTHERN ELEPHANT SEALS
  • WEDDELL SEALS
  • GRAY SEALS
  • BEHAVIOR
  • METABOLISM

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