The effect of myoglobin concentration on aerobic dive limit in a Weddell seal

T. J. Wright, R. W. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


One physiological adaptation for prolonged dive duration in marine mammals is an elevated myoglobin (Mb) concentration in skeletal muscle. To determine the influence of Mb concentration on the aerobic dive limit (ADL), we modified a previously published model that simulated aerobic dives in a Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) and ran it for four Mb concentrations: 5, 27, 54 and 108 g Mb kg-1 muscle representing 7%, 50%, 100% and 200%, respectively, of the normal Mb concentration in Weddell seal skeletal muscle. The model was run at increasing levels of muscular exertion and under postabsorptive and postprandial conditions to determine their effect on ADL. For each set of conditions, the model was also run at different levels of cardiac output (i.e. the dive response was varied) to determine the level of convective oxygen transport that optimized the ADL. In a postabsorptive state at a routine level of muscular exertion for a diving Weddell seal, a decrease in Mb concentration to 7% of normal caused a 39% decrease in the ADL (18 min to 11 min), while doubling the Mb concentration increased the ADL by 30% (18 min to 24 min). Under postprandial conditions at a routine level of muscular exertion, doubling the Mb concentration did not increase the ADL (12 min). The convective oxygen transport needed to meet the metabolic demands (Heat Increment of Feeding, HIF) of the splanchnic organs during digestion and assimilation required a cardiac output that was not optimal for the efficient use of muscle oxygen stores. This resulted in an over perfusion of the muscles and incomplete use of myoglobin-bound oxygen. As a result, the postprandial ADL was limited by the amount of oxygen stored in the blood, and increasing the Mb concentration had no effect on the ADL. We hypothesize that myoglobin concentration is optimized for the type and duration of dives routinely made by Weddell seals, and that a further increase may not increase the ADL for most free-ranging dives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2576-2585
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • ADL
  • Diving
  • Leptonychotes weddellii
  • Myoglobin
  • Postabsorptive
  • Postprandial
  • Weddell seal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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