Excised lungs from eight marine mammal species [harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus), harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), gray seal (Halichoerus grypush), Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus), common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus), long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas) and harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)] were used to determine the minimum air volume of the relaxed lung (MAV, N=15), the elastic properties (pressure-volume curves, N=24) of the respiratory system and the total lung capacity (TLC). Our data indicate that mass-specific TLC (sTLC, l kg(-1)) does not differ between species or groups (odontocete vs phocid) and agree with that estimated (TLC(est)) from body mass (M(b)) by applying the equation: TLC(est)=0.135 M(b)(0.92). Measured MAV was on average 7% of TLC, with a range from 0 to 16%. The pressure-volume curves were similar among species on inflation but diverged during deflation in phocids in comparison with odontocetes. These differences provide a structural basis for observed species differences in the depth at which lungs collapse and gas exchange ceases.