Thermoregulation of weaned northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) pups in air and water

Physiol Biochem Zool. Sep-Oct 2002;75(5):513-23. doi: 10.1086/342254.


Fasting weaned northern elephant seal pups (Mirounga angustirostris) experience diverse environmental conditions on land and in water on a daily basis. Each environment undoubtedly induces distinct energetic costs that may vary for pups of differing body condition. To determine the energetic costs associated with different environmental conditions and whether costs vary between individuals, body mass, surface area, volume, body composition, resting metabolic rate, and core body temperature were determined for 17 weaned northern elephant seal pups from Año Nuevo, California. Metabolic rate and body temperature were measured for pups resting in air (20.9 degrees +/-0.8 degrees C), cold water (3.8 degrees+/-0.4 degrees ;C), and warm water (14.5 degrees+/-0.2 degrees C). Resting metabolic rate increased with body mass (range: 62.0-108.0 kg) and was also correlated with lean mass and lipid mass. Metabolic rates ranged from 293.6 to 512.7 mL O(2) min(-1) and were lowest for pups resting in cold water. Thermal conductance, calculated from metabolic rate and core body temperature, ranged from 3.1 to 15.2 W degrees C(-1), with the highest values in air and the lowest values in cold water. Metabolic responses to the three environmental conditions did not differ with individual variation in body condition. For all elephant seal pups, a consequence of high lipid content is that thermoregulatory costs are greatest on land and lowest in cold water, a pattern that contrasts markedly with terrestrial mammals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Air
  • Animals
  • Atmosphere*
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Temperature Regulation*
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Male
  • Seals, Earless / physiology*
  • Seawater*
  • Temperature
  • Weaning