Growth in marine mammals: a review of growth patterns, composition and energy investment

Stephanie K. Adamczak*, Elizabeth A. McHuron, Fredrik Christiansen, Robin Dunkin, Clive R. McMahon, Shawn Noren, Enrico Pirotta, David Rosen, James Sumich, Daniel P. Costa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Growth of structural mass and energy reserves influences individual survival, reproductive success, population and species life history. Metrics of structural growth and energy storage of individuals are often used to assess population health and reproductive potential, which can inform conservation. However, the energetic costs of tissue deposition for structural growth and energy stores and their prioritization within bioenergetic budgets are poorly documented. This is particularly true across marine mammal species as resources are accumulated at sea, limiting the ability to measure energy allocation and prioritization. We reviewed the literature on marine mammal growth to summarize growth patterns, explore their tissue compositions, assess the energetic costs of depositing these tissues and explore the tradeoffs associated with growth. Generally, marine mammals exhibit logarithmic growth. This means that the energetic costs related to growth and tissue deposition are high for early postnatal animals, but small compared to the total energy budget as animals get older. Growth patterns can also change in response to resource availability, habitat and other energy demands, such that they can serve as an indicator of individual and population health. Composition of tissues remained consistent with respect to protein and water content across species; however, there was a high degree of variability in the lipid content of both muscle (0.1–74.3%) and blubber (0.4–97.9%) due to the use of lipids as energy storage. We found that relatively few well-studied species dominate the literature, leaving data gaps for entire taxa, such as beaked whales. The purpose of this review was to identify such gaps, to inform future research priorities and to improve our understanding of how marine mammals grow and the associated energetic costs.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbercoad035
Number of pages19
JournalConservation Physiology
Early online date21 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2023


  • Marine mammal
  • Growth
  • Body size


Dive into the research topics of 'Growth in marine mammals: a review of growth patterns, composition and energy investment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this