A killer appetite: metabolic consequences of carnivory in marine mammals. Conference Paper uri icon


  • Among terrestrial mammals, the morphology of the gastrointestinal tract reflects the metabolic demands of the animal and individual requirements for processing, distributing, and absorbing nutrients. To determine if gastrointestinal tract morphology is similarly correlated with metabolic requirements in marine mammals, we examined the relationship between basal metabolic rate (BMR) and small intestinal length in pinnipeds and cetaceans. Oxygen consumption was measured for resting bottlenose dolphins and Weddell seals, and the results combined with data for four additional species of carnivorous marine mammal. Data for small intestinal length were obtained from previously published reports. Similar analyses were conducted for five species of carnivorous terrestrial mammal, for which BMR and intestinal length were known. The results indicate that the BMRs of Weddell seals and dolphins resting on the water surface are 1.6 and 2.3 times the predicted levels for similarly sized domestic terrestrial mammals, respectively. Small intestinal lengths for carnivorous marine mammals depend on body size and are comparatively longer than those of terrestrial carnivores. The relationship between basal metabolic rate (kcal day(-1)) and small intestinal length (m) for both marine and terrestrial carnivores was, BMR=142.5 intestinal length(1.20) (r(2)=0.83). We suggest that elevated metabolic rates among marine mammal carnivores are associated with comparatively large alimentary tracts that are presumably required for supporting the energetic demands of an aquatic lifestyle and for feeding on vertebrate and invertebrate prey.

published proceedings

  • Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol

author list (cited authors)

  • Williams, T. M., Haun, J., Davis, R. W., Fuiman, L. A., & Kohin, S.

citation count

  • 102

complete list of authors

  • Williams, TM||Haun, J||Davis, RW||Fuiman, LA||Kohin, S

publication date

  • July 2001