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BluePlanetArchive/Whale Watch Azores


The Dive of the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

The Dive of the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

 The Cuvier’s beaked whale can dive 2,992 meters (9,816 ft) deep, where the pressure is about 30,300 kilopascals (4,390 psi). This whale can also stay submerged for long periods of time. One was recorded as staying underwater for 3 hours and 42 minutes before returning to the surface for air. How can these air-breathing mammals survive such intense pressure and little oxygen for so long?

 Like other marine mammals, the whale’s rib cage folds down and its lungs collapse. Researchers have discovered that marine mammals use less oxygen when their heart rate lowers dramatically and their blood flow is redirected from their extremities to their brain, heart, and muscles.

 In addition, marine mammals store oxygen in their muscles by means of a protein called myoglobin. The myoglobin releases the oxygen as needed during deep dives. The muscles possess far greater concentrations of myoglobin than found in humans and land animals.

 Still, one researcher concluded about the Cuvier’s beaked whales: “They’re diving to depths that are absolutely phenomenal. With our current knowledge of physiology, they’re going way over and beyond what they’re supposed to be able to do.” Scientists hope to understand better how these whales dive because it may help doctors to improve treatment of medical conditions such as a collapsed lung.

 What do you think? Did the ability of the Cuvier’s beaked whale to make long, deep dives evolve? Or was it designed?