Cardio-respiratory Physiology: How can seals dive so deep for so long?

Time to complete course: 36 min.

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About Cardio-respiratory Physiology: How can seals dive so deep for so long? Virtual Lab Simulation

How Weddell seals can dive up to 600 meters and for over 30 minutes is a bit of a mystery. In this simulation, you will learn about oxygen stores, aerobic dive limit, aerobic and partially anaerobic ATP generation, and special cardio-respiratory adaptations that allow seals to perform deep, long dives that would be impossible for humans without scuba diving equipment.

Monitor seal dives in Antarctica

Welcome to the Labster research station in Antarctica! Here, you will join our team and help monitor Weddell seal dives to study what cardio-respiratory adaptations seals possess to be able to dive so deep and for such a long amount of time. Humans and seals have different amounts of oxygen available to them, and they also store it at different proportions in lungs, blood and muscle. Do seals and humans have the same factorial increase in oxygen consumption? Monitor three dives and collect data on consumed oxygen and blood lactate to find out.

Get a puzzle piece for each calculation you get right

You will equip a Weddell seal with a camera, instruments pack and catheter for blood collection, and watch it dive and come back up to the surface of the hole in the ice in the research hut. Through fun mini-games, you will calculate available oxygen, aerobic dive limit and ATPs generated during aerobic and partially anaerobic dives. For each correct result, you will get a piece of the puzzle!

Swim with a seal

At the end, when you have all your puzzle pieces, your reward will be an interactive dive with the seal. You will be able to see a summary of its main cardio-respiratory adaptations to diving.

Will you be able to guess them before you click the different parts?

Get Started Now

Monitor three dives of a Weddell seal in Antarctica and discover how long it can dive with the oxygen available in its stores.

Techniques in Lab

  • Catheter insertion and blood collection at different time points
  • Data analysis through calculations and results interpretation (calculate total oxygen stores, aerobic dive limit, oxygen consumption, and ATP generation from aerobic and partially anaerobic dives)
  • Interpret an ECG
  • Use a metabolic dome and oxygen analyzer to collect oxygen consumption data

Learning Objectives

At the end of this simulation, you will be able to…

  • Explain physiological adaptations of the cardio-respiratory system of seals to deep diving
  • Point out differences between human and seal physiology during long, deep dives without oxygen
  • Evaluate respiratory and cardiovascular function
  • Measure oxygen consumption and calculate the total amount of oxygen needed for dives of various durations, and compare this to estimated oxygen stores in the lungs, blood, and tissues of seals
  • Use graphing approaches to relate type of exercise to metabolic and heart rates
  • Compare energy costs of different forms of locomotion

Simulation Features

Length – 36 minutes
Accessibility mode – Not Available
Languages – English

Examples of Related Standards


Life Science related 1st year onwards


No direct alignment


6.4 Gas exchange
D.6 Transport of respiratory gases


No direct alignment

Screenshots of Cardio-respiratory Physiology: How can seals dive so deep for so long? Virtual Lab Simulation


Dr. Jon Harrison

School of Life Sciences
Arizona State University

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