Mitochondria from the muscle-derived thermogenic (heater) organ and oxidative red muscle of the blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) were studied in order to evaluate aspects of the mechanism of thermogenesis in heater tissue. We investigated whether short-term Ca(2+)-induced uncoupling of mitochondria contributes to the thermogenic cycle of the heater organ by enhancing the respiration rate. Specific electrodes were used to obtain simultaneous measurements of oxygen consumption and Ca2+ fluxes on isolated mitochondria, and the effects of various concentrations of Ca2+ on respiration rates and the ADP phosphorylated/atomic oxygen consumed (P/O) ratio were examined. Addition of Ca2+ in excess of 10 mumol l-1 to respiring heater organ or red muscle mitochondria partially inhibited state 3 respiration and reduced the P/O ratio, indicating that the mitochondria were partially uncoupled. These effects were blocked by 2 mumol l-1 Ruthenium Red. In heater organ mitochondria, state 3 respiration rate and the P/O ratio were not significantly reduced by 1 mumol l-1 free Ca2+, a concentration likely to be near the maximum achieved in a stimulated cell. This indicates that transient increases in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration may not significantly reduce the P/O ratio of heater organ mitochondria. The activity of 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase in heater organ mitochondria was stimulated by approximately 15% by Ca2+ concentrations between 0.2 and 1 mumol l-1. These results suggest that heater organ mitochondria are able to maintain a normal P/O ratio and should maintain ATP output during transient increases in Ca2+ concentration, supporting a model in which an ATP-consuming process drives thermogenesis. Activation of mitochondrial dehydrogenases by low levels of Ca2+ may also enhance respiration and contribute to thermogenesis.