Skin temperatures during free-ranging swimming and diving in Antarctic fur seals

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This study tests the hypothesis that an endothermic homeotherm should minimise heat flux in cold polar waters by minimising skin temperature. Temperature variability was measured at the surface of the skin of three Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) at intervals of 2s over a total of 9.7 days while they were swimming and diving freely in polar waters at temperatures of 1.5-4 degrees C. The temperature difference (Delta T) between skin on the dorsal thorax and the water varied from more than 20 degrees C to close to equality over periods of less than 1 h. Shorter-term variations in Delta T of up to 5 degrees C occurred in association with diving, although these types of variations also occurred without diving. In general, Delta T began to decline during the descent phase of a dive and began to increase again during the ascent or at the end of the dive. One of the three individuals examined showed little variation in Delta T, which remained low (approximately 3 degrees C) throughout the experiment. In the other two fur seals, Delta T tended to decline during periods of sustained diving and usually increased during periods spent at the surface. Mean calculated heat flux varied from 95 to 236 W m(-2) depending on the individual. Metabolic rates based on these calculated heat fluxes were towards the lower end of those measured in previous studies using different methodologies. The study has shown that Antarctic fur seal skin temperature is highly dynamic and suggests that the thoracic surface is an organ used for active thermoregulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1907-1914
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2000


  • thermoregulation
  • polar
  • low temperature
  • physiology
  • pinniped
  • Antarctic fur seal
  • Arctocephalus gazella


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