Adult marine mammal muscles rely upon a suite of adaptations for sustained aerobic metabolism in the absence of freely available oxygen (O(2)). Although the importance of these adaptations for supporting aerobic diving patterns of adults is well understood, little is known about postnatal muscle development in young marine mammals. However, the typical pattern of vertebrate muscle development, and reduced tissue O(2) stores and diving ability of young marine mammals suggest that the physiological properties of harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) pup muscle will differ from those of adults. We examined myoglobin (Mb) concentration, and the activities of citrate synthase (CS), beta-hydroxyacyl coA dehydrogenase (HOAD), and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) in muscle biopsies from harbor seal pups throughout the nursing period, and compared these biochemical parameters to those of adults. Pups had reduced O(2) carrying capacity ([Mb] 28-41% lower than adults) and reduced metabolically scaled catabolic enzyme activities (LDH/RMR 20-58% and CS/RMR 29-89% lower than adults), indicating that harbor seal pup muscles are biochemically immature at birth and weaning. This suggests that pup muscles do not have the ability to support either the aerobic or anaerobic performance of adult seals. This immaturity may contribute to the lower diving capacity and behavior in younger pups. In addition, the trends in myoglobin concentration and enzyme activity seen in this study appear to be developmental and/or exercise-driven responses that together work to produce the hypoxic endurance phenotype seen in adults, rather than allometric effects due to body size.