Eat now, pay later? Evidence of deferred food-processing costs in diving seals

Biol Lett. 2007 Feb 22;3(1):94-8. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0566.


Seals may delay costly physiological processes (e.g. digestion) that are incompatible with the physiological adjustments to diving until after periods of active foraging. We present unusual profiles of metabolic rate (MR) in grey seals measured during long-term simulation of foraging trips (4-5 days) that provide evidence for this. We measured extremely high MRs (up to almost seven times the baseline levels) and high heart rates during extended surface intervals, where the seals were motionless at the surface. These occurred most often during the night and occurred frequently many hours after the end of feeding bouts. The duration and amount of oxygen consumed above baseline levels during these events was correlated with the amount of food eaten, confirming that these metabolic peaks were related to the processing of food eaten during foraging periods earlier in the day. We suggest that these periods of high MR represent a payback of costs deferred during foraging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Digestion / physiology
  • Diving / physiology*
  • Eating / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Seals, Earless / physiology*