From: ENN Staff
Published March 27, 2014 04:13 PM

Culvier's Beaked Whale Species Sets Breath-Holding Record

How long can you hold your breath underwater? The Guinness Book of World Records reports that the longest time recorded for a human is 22 minutes. So how do we compare to other species? Dolphins can hold it for approximately 20-30 minutes while sea birds can dive underwater for 3-10 minutes. But none of us can compare to Cuvier's beaked whale - a species that has been recorded for holding it's breath for over two hours!

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Cuvier beaked whales can dive to depths nearly two miles below the ocean surface — an incredible feat. And consequently, traveling this far requires them to hold their breath.

Distributed throughout the world's oceans, the Cuvier's beaked whales' frequent dives deep into the ocean make them difficult for researchers to study. Previous studies using short-term tags (~ 215 hours of data) have indicated that this deep-diving species might be the most extreme breath-holding diver in the ocean. To better understand this behavior, scientists analyzed data from satellite-linked tags that recorded the diving behavior and locations of eight Cuvier's beaked whales off the Southern California coast. 

Researchers recorded 1100 deep-dives, averaging 0.87 miles deep, and 5600 shallow-dives, averaging about 0.17 miles deep. The deepest dives recorded was one that reached nearly two miles below the ocean surface, and the longest lasted 137 minutes. The dives captured by this study not only exceed the previous Cuvier's beaked whale diving records of ~1 mile deep and 95 minutes, but also the current mammalian dive record previously set by the southern elephant seal at ~1.5 miles deep and 120 minutes. One striking difference compared to other divers is that deep-diving elephant seals and sperm whales require an extended recovery period after long, deep dives, whereas Cuvier's beaked whales average less than two minutes at the surface between dives.

According to the authors, the results of this study provide a better understanding of the unique diving capabilities of this species, which accounts for 69% of recorded marine mammal strandings associated with military sonar operations.

Greg Schorr who conducted the research along with his colleagues says, "It's remarkable to imagine these social, warm-blooded mammals actively pursuing prey in the darkness at such astounding depths, literally miles away from their most basic physiological need: air."

Research regarding this study was published March 26, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Read more at EurkeAlert!

Whale tail image via Shutterstock.

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