Skeletal muscle thermogenesis enables aquatic life in the smallest marine mammal Academic Article uri icon


  • Basal metabolic rate generally scales with body mass in mammals, and variation from predicted levels indicates adaptive metabolic remodeling. As a thermogenic adaptation for living in cool water, sea otters have a basal metabolic rate approximately three times that of the predicted rate; however, the tissue-level source of this hypermetabolism is unknown. Because skeletal muscle is a major determinant of whole-body metabolism, we characterized respiratory capacity and thermogenic leak in sea otter muscle. Compared with that of previously sampled mammals, thermogenic muscle leak capacity was elevated and could account for sea otter hypermetabolism. Muscle respiratory capacity was modestly elevated and reached adult levels in neonates. Premature metabolic development and high leak rate indicate that sea otter muscle metabolism is regulated by thermogenic demand and is the source of basal hypermetabolism.

author list (cited authors)

  • Wright, T., Davis, R. W., Pearson, H. C., Murray, M., & Sheffield-Moore, M.

publication date

  • January 1, 2021 11:11 AM