Sink or Swim: Strategies for Cost-Efficient Diving by Marine Mammals

Locomotor activity by diving marine mammals is accomplished while breath-holding and often exceeds predicted aerobic capacities. Video sequences of freely diving seals and whales wearing   submersible cameras reveal a behavioral strategy that improves energetic effciency in these animals. Prolonged gliding (greater than 78% descent duration) occurred during dives exceeding 80  meters in depth. Gliding was attributed to buoyancy changes with lung compression at depth. By modifying locomotor patterns to take advantage of these physical changes, Weddell seals realized a 9.2 to 59.6% reduction in diving energetic costs. This energy-conserving strategy allows marine mammals to increase aerobic dive duration and achieve remarkable depths despite limited oxygen availability when submerged.


Williams, T.M., R.W. Davis, L.A. Fuiman, J. Francis, B.J. Le Boeuf, M. Horning, J. Calambokidis, and D.A. Croll. 2000. Sink or Swim: Strategies for Cost-Efficient Diving by Marine Mammals. Science 288(5463): 133-136. doi: 10.1126/science.288.5463.133

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