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Beaked Whale Breaks Longest Dive Record by Staying Underwater for Nearly 4 Hours

A Cuvier's beaked whale has broken all previous records for diving by staying underwater for 222 minutes | Image credit: Reuters (Representational)

A Cuvier's beaked whale has broken all previous records for diving by staying underwater for 222 minutes | Image credit: Reuters (Representational)

The impressive, record-breaking whale was a Cuvier’s beaked whale. The species is popular for its diving and swimming skills. Despite that, the new record of 222 minutes is unprecedented.

A species of whales has surprised scientists by being submerged underwater for hours. If you’re wondering ‘what’s the big deal, fish live underwater water anyway,’ then here it is: whales aren’t fishes, they are mammals. Their breathing process is similar to those living on land. This is why whales are often spotted around the surface, where they come to breathe.

The impressive, record-breaking whale was a Cuvier’s beaked whale. The species is popular for its diving and swimming skills. Despite that, the new record of 222 minutes is unprecedented. The pre-existing estimates of whale experts show they should be out of oxygen by the 34th minute of submersion.

Experts are divided about why this whale was able to either hold its breath or survive underwater. The most common belief among the experts, based on observations and deductions, is that these animals might be using anaerobic respiration, which can last for several hours and even in absence of oxygen.

This would present itself in various aspects of the Cuvier’s beaked whales physiology. They are likely to have a lower metabolism than most other whales and a bigger oxygen store. In anaerobic processes, more lactic acid is produced which can induce pain in normal mammals. If you exercise a lot or have certain bone conditions, you may be familiar with the lactic-acid pain. The Cuvier’s whales must, therefore, have adapted to survive the sting caused by lactic acid.

In all previous observations, the whales generally remain submerged for 33 minutes at most before they run out of oxygen. They resurface, take in the life-giving gas from the atmosphere, and dive back in.

In this study, few researchers from Duke University (North Carolina, USA) observed the habits of these whales a little more closely. As whales remain on the surface for less than two minutes, they used tags on them to track them. A total of 23 tags were used to record more than 3,600 dives.

The longest dive lasted 222 minutes and might have taken that long due to sonar activity in the area.

This record will help researchers learn more about the species’ respiratory system as little is known about them. The findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.


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