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Keywords:

  • diving;
  • pinnipeds;
  • aerobic metabolism;
  • Phocarctos hookeri

Abstract

Lactating New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) have recently been reported to be the longest and deepest-diving otariid. An unusually large proportion of dives exceeded a theoretical aerobic dive limit, predicted from estimated oxygen stores and measurements of diving metabolic rate. We investigated swimming speed, a key variable in both the management of oxygen stores and foraging strategies, and its relation to diving behaviour in New Zealand sea lions. Diving behaviour was nearly continuous with short inter-dive intervals. Mean diving swimming speeds ranged from 1.6 to 2.4 m/s. Mean surface swimming speeds ranged from 0.9 to 1.8 m/s and were significantly lower than diving speeds in all subjects. New Zealand sea lions spend significant but variable amounts of time resting at the surface. Diving and swimming speed patterns were consistent with foraging on the benthos. Time in the foraging zone was maintained in deeper dives by increasing dive duration. This increased duration cannot be accounted for by a decreased metabolic rate resulting from slower swimming speeds, as speeds increased with the maximum depth of dives. Patterns of swimming speed and acceleration suggest the use of a gliding phase during descent. For most females, the extended duration of deeper dives did not impact on surface times, suggesting the use of aerobic metabolism. Females exhibited significantly slower swim speeds during the bottom segments of foraging dives than during descent or ascent. These findings suggest that swimming behaviour should be considered a critical component when modelling energetic costs for diving animals.