In order for an animal to survive in an environment as dynamic as the ocean, it must be highly specialized in terms of physiological adaptations to meet its metabolic demands.  Additionally, if sufficient resources needed for meeting these demands are absent, populations of marine animals may decline. 

Until scientists understand what it costs marine animals to survive in a  changing environment, no progress can be made in protecting the resources these animals need to making a living in the ocean.

In light of this, the Marine Mammal Physiology Project began in 1994 at the University of California Santa Cruz’ Long Marine Laboratory, under the direction of Dr. Terrie Williams, an exercise physiologist and professor at UCSC.  Working with animals that are trained to voluntarily cooperate in the data collection process, the project investigates the energetics, physiological, and biomechanical parameters of numerous marine mammals.

Dr. Williams seeks to answer the important question of what it costs these animals to survive in the ocean.  In other words, how much energy must these animals expend to accomplish their daily activities such as swimming, diving, foraging, and mating.  Answering these questions by implementing a variety of techniques to experimentally deduce an animals energy consumption, or metabolic rate, allows Dr. Williams to achieve an understanding of marine mammal physiology that can be applied to conserving wild populations.

In addition to all of the Marine Mammal Physiology Project’s many research endeavors, it also holds a pivotal role in developing the next generation of global conservationists and cutting edge animal trainers.  The project conducts several public outreach programs throughout the year designed to educate the general public about all the work being completed and how they can apply the knowledge we are gaining to wild populations.  Additionally, the Marine Mammal Physiology Project offers a university course on exotic animal care and training and a hands-on volunteer program, allowing undergraduates to experience working with marine mammals in an educational setting.


About the Marine Mammal Physiology Project