High heart rates in hunting harbour porpoises

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences








The impressive breath-hold capabilities of marine mammals are facilitated by both enhanced O 2 stores and reductions in the rate of O 2 consumption via peripheral vasoconstriction and bradycardia, called the dive response. Many studies have focused on the extreme role of the dive response in maximizing dive duration in marine mammals, but few have addressed how these adjustments may compromise the capability to hunt, digest and thermoregulate during routine dives. Here, we use DTAGs, which record heart rate together with foraging and movement behaviour, to investigate how O 2 management is balanced between the need to dive and forage in five wild harbour porpoises that hunt thousands of small prey daily during continuous shallow diving. Dive heart rates were moderate (median minimum 47-69 bpm) and relatively stable across dive types, dive duration (0.5-3.3 min) and activity. A moderate dive response, allowing for some perfusion of peripheral tissues, may be essential for fuelling the high field metabolic rates required to maintain body temperature and support digestion during diving in these small, continuously feeding cetaceans. Thus, despite having the capacity to prolong dives via a strong dive response, for these shallow-diving cetaceans, it appears to be more efficient to maintain circulation while diving: extreme heart rate gymnastics are for deep dives and emergencies, not everyday use.

Funding Number

FKZ 3515822000

Funding Sponsor

National Science Foundation


biologging, bradycardia, dive response, ECG, exercise modulated, foraging


Moss Landing Marine Laboratories