Marine mammals endure extended breath-holds while performing active behaviors, which has fascinated scientists for over a century. It is now known that these animals have large onboard oxygen stores and utilize oxygen-conserving mechanisms to prolong aerobically supported dives to great depths, while typically avoiding (or tolerating) hypoxia, hypercarbia, acidosis and decompression sickness (DCS). Over the last few decades, research has revealed that diving physiology is underdeveloped at birth. Here, I review the postnatal development of the body's oxygen stores, cardiorespiratory system and other attributes of diving physiology for pinnipeds and cetaceans to assess how physiological immaturity makes young marine mammals vulnerable to disturbance. Generally, the duration required for body oxygen stores to mature varies across species in accordance with the maternal dependency period, which can be over 2 years long in some species. However, some Arctic and deep-diving species achieve mature oxygen stores comparatively early in life (prior to weaning). Accelerated development in these species supports survival during prolonged hypoxic periods when calves accompany their mothers under sea ice and to the bathypelagic zone, respectively. Studies on oxygen utilization patterns and heart rates while diving are limited, but the data indicate that immature marine mammals have a limited capacity to regulate heart rate (and hence oxygen utilization) during breath-hold. Underdeveloped diving physiology, in combination with small body size, limits diving and swimming performance. This makes immature marine mammals particularly vulnerable to mortality during periods of food limitation, habitat alterations associated with global climate change, fishery interactions and other anthropogenic disturbances, such as exposure to sonar.