NPR Story
12:45 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

Don't Try This At Home: Whales Set New Breath-Hold Record

Researchers have documented a new breath hold record among mammals. They timed a dive by a whale off the coast of California that lasted two hours and 17 minutes.

To gather the initial results, which were published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, the researchers used barbed darts to attach temporary dive recorders to the dorsal fins of eight whales. The satellite-linked tags were made by a Redmond, Washington company, Wildlife Computers.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Tom Banse has more.

Reporter

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Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Robin, how long can you hold your breath?

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

You're talking to a former swimmer, so the length of a pool, a small pool.

HOBSON: OK, 25 yards or 25 meters or something like that? So I don't know how long that takes, but listen to this. Researchers have documented a breath-holding record among mammals. They timed a dive by a whale in California that lasted two hours and 17 minutes.

YOUNG: Stop.

HOBSON: Holding their breath. From the HERE AND NOW contributors network, Tom Banse has the story.

TOM BANSE: A paper published by scientists with the Cascadia Research Collective revealed two new mammalians records. The researchers tagged Cuvier's beaked whales, that's a rarely seen species which forages in deep ocean waters worldwide, including off the U.S. Lead study author Greg Schorr says his team tracked thousands of dives by these whales. The longest lasted 137 minutes.

GREG SCHORR: Imagine holding your breath while flying from Seattle to San Jose. And that would be similar to what these animals are capable of doing.

BANSE: Schorr says one beaked whale also dove deeper than any other mammal seen before, including the previous record holder, a southern elephant seal. The tagged whale dove nearly two miles below the surface.

SCHORR: They basically can store huge amounts of oxygen in their muscle tissue and release it in a very controlled manner to allow them to dive to these depths.

BANSE: The U.S. Navy was the primary funder of this research. It wants more info about whether anti-submarine warfare exercises using sonar might drive whales to do stuff like beach themselves.

SCHORR: The relationship between the sonar and the strandings is still a question that's trying to be answered, and it's a very pertinent question. There are news reports, actually, of a new stranding of Cuvier's beaked whales in Crete on April 1 associated with, possibly with Navy sonar activity.

BANSE: Schorr says the next phase of his team's research will compare whale behavior in the presence and absence of sonar noise. That'll happen on an ocean training range off the coast of Southern California. It's the same place where the record-setting dives were observed. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Tom Banse reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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