Diving animals offer a unique opportunity to study the importance of physiological constraint in their everyday behaviors. An important component of the physiological capability of any diving animal is it’s aerobic dive limit (ADL). The ADL has only been measured in a few species. The goal of this study was to estimate the aerobic dive limit from measurements of body oxygen stores and at sea metabolism. This calculated ADL (cADL) was then compared to measurements of diving behavior of individual animals of three species of otariids, the Antarctic fur seal, Arctocephalus gazella, the Australian sea lion, Neophoca cinerea, and the New Zealand sea lion, Phocarctos hookeri. Antarctic fur seals dove well within the cADL. In contrast, many individuals of both sea lion species exceeded the cADL, some by significant amounts. Australian sea lions typically dove 1.5 times longer than the cADL, while New Zealand sea lions on average dove 1.4 times longer than the cADL. The tendency to exceed the cADL was correlated with the dive pattern of individual animals. In both Antarctic Fur Seals and Australian sea lions, deeper diving females made longer dives that approached or exceeded the cADL (P < 0.01, r2 = 0.54). Australian and New Zealand sea lions with longer bottom times also exceeded the cADL to a greater degree. The two sea lions forage on the benthos while the fur seals feed shallow in the water column. It appears that benthic foraging requires these animals to reach or exceed their aerobic dive limit.
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