Marine mammals are thought to have an energetically expensive lifestyle because endothermy is costly in marine environments. However, measurements of total energy expenditure (TEE; kcal day−1) are available only for a limited number of marine mammals, because large body size and inaccessible habitats make TEE measurements expensive and difficult to obtain for many taxa. We measured TEE in 10 adult common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) living in natural seawater lagoons at two facilities (Dolphin Research Center and Dolphin Quest) using the doubly labeled water method. We assessed the relative effects of body mass, age and physical activity on TEE. We also examined whether TEE of bottlenose dolphins, and more generally of marine mammals, differs from that expected for their body mass compared with other eutherian mammals, using phylogenetic least squares (PGLS) regressions. There were no differences in body mass or TEE (unadjusted TEE and TEE adjusted for fat-free mass) between dolphins from the two facilities. Our results show that adjusted TEE decreased and fat mass increased with age. Different measures of activity were not related to age, body fat or adjusted TEE. Both PGLS and the non-phylogenetic linear regression indicate that marine mammals have an elevated TEE compared with that of terrestrial mammals. However, bottlenose dolphins expended 17.1% less energy than other marine mammals of similar body mass. The two oldest dolphins (>40 years) showed a lower TEE, similar to the decline in TEE seen in older humans. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show an age-related metabolic decline in a large non-human mammal.

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