Cuvier’s beaked whale tracked spending over two hours underwater

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 11:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 11:00pm

If there were a gold medal for cetacean diving, it undoubtedly would go to the Cuvier's beaked whale.

Scientists said on Wednesday they tracked these medium-sized whales off the coast of California using satellite-linked tags as the creatures dived down nearly three kilometres and spent two hours and 17 minutes underwater before resurfacing.

Those are breath-taking accomplishments for an air-breathing creature.

In fact, those figures represent both the deepest and the longest dives ever documented for any marine mammal, said Greg Schorr of the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Washington, who led the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Many creatures live at the depths these whales dive to, including their likely primary prey of squid and fish," Schorr said.

"However, there is a major difference between these whales and the other creatures living deep in the ocean - the fundamental requirement to breathe air at the surface."

By way of comparison, the record for a person holding his breath underwater is 22 minutes, according to Guinness World Records. That followed a period of hyperventilation with pure oxygen; the record for non-oxygen assisted breath-holding is 11½ minutes.

Cuvier's beaked whales are widely distributed in many deep-water regions from the tropics to cool temperate waters, though not in polar regions. They measure up to about seven metres, with stout bodies shaped a bit like a torpedo. Their foreheads slope into a short beak with a slightly upturned mouth - leaving them with a smiling appearance.

"This species is highly adapted to deep diving, spending less than two minutes at the surface between dives," Schorr said. "These are social, warm-blooded mammals that have adapted to actively pursue their prey at astounding depths - all while up to 1.8 miles away from their most basic physiological need: air."

The scientists tracked eight whales off the coast of Southern California. They were tagged in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and amassed more than 3,700 hours of diving data.



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