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Keywords:

  • northern fur seal;
  • Callorhinus ursinus ;
  • thermal neutral zone;
  • thermoregulation;
  • metabolism

Abstract

Thermoregulatory capacity may constrain the distribution of marine mammals despite having anatomical and physiological adaptations to compensate for the thermal challenges of an aquatic lifestyle. We tested whether subadult female northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) experience increased thermoregulatory costs in water temperatures potentially encountered during their annual migration in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean. Metabolic rates were measured seasonally in 6 captive female northern fur seals (2.75–3.5 yr old) in ambient air and controlled water temperatures of 2°C, 10°C, and 18°C. Rates of oxygen consumption in ambient air (1°C–18°C) were not related to environmental temperature except below 2.5°C (winter only). However, metabolism was significantly higher during the fall seasonal trials (September–October) compared to other times of year, perhaps due to the costs of molting. The fur seals appeared thermally neutral in all seasons for all water temperatures tested (2°C–18°C) except during the summer when metabolic rates were higher in the 2°C water. Comparing this broad thermal neutral zone to the average sea surface temperatures potentially encountered during annual migrations indicates wild fur seals can likely exploit a large geographic area without added thermal metabolic costs.