Seals are a group of aquatic mammals that inhabit both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. As marine mammals, they have adapted to life in water, which presents unique thermoregulatory challenges. To survive in these cold environments, seals have evolved a range of physiological and behavioral adaptations that allow them to regulate their body temperature.

thermographic image of a seal

One of the primary thermoregulatory strategies used by seals is their thick layer of blubber, which provides insulation against the cold. This layer of fat is particularly thick in species that live in the Arctic, such as the harp seal, where it can be up to 4 inches (10 cm) thick. In addition to providing insulation, the blubber also serves as an energy store, allowing seals to go long periods without food.

Seals also use behavioral strategies to regulate their body temperature. For example, they can control blood flow to their extremities to conserve heat. By constricting the blood vessels in their flippers, seals can reduce blood flow to these areas, limiting heat loss to the surrounding water. Conversely, by increasing blood flow to these areas, they can dissipate heat and cool down.

Another thermoregulatory strategy used by seals is huddling. Seals often congregate in large groups, or huddles, to conserve heat. By sharing body heat with their neighbors, they can maintain a warmer body temperature than they would be able to alone.

Finally, seals have also been shown to have a high metabolic rate, which allows them to generate heat internally. This helps to keep their body temperature stable in cold water, where they are constantly losing heat to the environment.

In summary, seals have evolved a range of thermoregulatory strategies to survive in cold aquatic environments. These strategies include a thick layer of blubber for insulation and energy storage, behavioral strategies such as controlling blood flow to their extremities, huddling with other seals for warmth, and a high metabolic rate to generate internal heat. These adaptations have allowed seals to thrive in some of the coldest regions on Earth.