A review of the multi-level adaptations for maximizing aerobic dive duration in marine mammals: from biochemistry to behavior. Academic Article uri icon


  • Marine mammals exhibit multi-level adaptations, from cellular biochemistry to behavior, that maximize aerobic dive duration. A dive response during aerobic dives enables the efficient use of blood and muscle oxygen stores, but it is exercise modulated to maximize the aerobic dive limit at different levels of exertion. Blood volume and concentrations of blood hemoglobin and muscle myoglobin are elevated and serve as a significant oxygen store that increases aerobic dive duration. However, myoglobin is not homogeneously distributed in the locomotory muscles and is highest in areas that produce greater force and consume more oxygen during aerobic swimming. Muscle fibers are primarily fast and slow twitch oxidative with elevated mitochondrial volume densities and enhanced oxidative enzyme activities that are highest in areas that produce more force generation. Most of the muscle mitochondria are interfibriller and homogeneously distributed. This reduces the diffusion distance between mitochondria and helps maintain aerobic metabolism under hypoxic conditions. Mitochondrial volume densities and oxidative enzyme activities are also elevated in certain organs such as liver, kidneys, and stomach. Hepatic and renal function along with digestion and assimilation continue during aerobic dives to maintain physiological homeostasis. Most ATP production comes from aerobic fat metabolism in carnivorous marine mammals. Glucose is derived mostly from gluconeogenesis and is conserved for tissues such as red blood cells and the central nervous system. Marine mammals minimize the energetic cost of swimming and diving through body streamlining, efficient, lift-based propulsive appendages, and cost-efficient modes of locomotion that reduce drag and take advantage of changes in buoyancy with depth. Most dives are within the animal's aerobic dive limit, which maximizes time underwater and minimizes recovery time at the surface. The result of these adaptations is increased breath-hold duration and enhanced foraging ability that maximizes energy intake and minimizes energy output while making aerobic dives to depth. These adaptations are the long, evolutionary legacy of an aquatic lifestyle that directly affects the fitness of marine mammal species for different diving abilities and environments.

published proceedings

  • J Comp Physiol B

altmetric score

  • 4.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Davis, R. W.

citation count

  • 63

complete list of authors

  • Davis, Randall W

publication date

  • January 2014