Cardiac responses of grey seals during diving at sea

J Exp Biol. 1993 Jan:174:139-54. doi: 10.1242/jeb.174.1.139.


Heart rate, swimming speed and diving depth data were collected from free-ranging grey seals, Halichoerus grypus, as they foraged and travelled in the sea around the Hebrides Islands off western Scotland. Information was collected on a tracking yacht using a combination of sonic and radio telemetry. Diving heart rate declined as a function of dive duration. In long dives, grey seals employed extreme bradycardia, with heart rates falling to 4 beats min-1 for extended periods, despite the animal being free to breath at will. This extreme dive response is part of the normal foraging behaviour. Seals spent 89% of the time submerged during bouts of long dives; swimming was restricted to ascent and descent. Dive durations exceeded estimated aerobic dive limit, even assuming resting metabolic rates. These results indicate that behavioural, and possibly cellular, energy-sparing mechanisms play an important role in diving behaviour of grey seals. This has implications not only for studies of mammalian energetics but also for our understanding of the foraging tactics and prey selection of marine mammals. If some seals are using energy-sparing mechanisms to reduce metabolic costs while at depth, they may be forced to wait for and ambush prey rather than to search for and chase it.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diving / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Male
  • Oxygen / physiology
  • Seals, Earless / physiology*


  • Oxygen