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McDonald, BI, Ponganis PJ.  2013.  Insights from venous oxygen profiles: oxygen utilization and management in diving California sea lions. Journal of Experimental Biology. 216:3332-3341.   10.1242/jeb.085985   AbstractWebsite

The management and depletion of O-2 stores underlie the aerobic dive capacities of marine mammals. The California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) presumably optimizes O-2 store management during all dives, but approaches its physiological limits during deep dives to greater than 300. m depth. Blood O-2 comprises the largest component of total body O-2 stores in adult sea lions. Therefore, we investigated venous blood O-2 depletion during dives of California sea lions during maternal foraging trips to sea by: (1) recording venous partial pressure of O-2 (PO2) profiles during dives, (2) characterizing the O-2-hemoglobin (Hb) dissociation curve of sea lion Hb and (3) converting the PO2 profiles into percent Hb saturation (SO2) profiles using the dissociation curve. The O-2-Hb dissociation curve was typical of other pinnipeds (P-50=28 +/- 2mmHg at pH 7.4). In 43% of dives, initial venous SO2 values were greater than 78% (estimated resting venous SO2), indicative of arterialization of venous blood. Blood O-2 was far from depleted during routine shallow dives, with minimum venous SO2 values routinely greater than 50%. However, in deep dives greater than 4. min in duration, venous SO2 reached minimum values below 5% prior to the end of the dive, but then increased during the last 30-60s of ascent. These deep dive profiles were consistent with transient venous blood O-2 depletion followed by partial restoration of venous O-2 through pulmonary gas exchange and peripheral blood flow during ascent. These differences in venous O-2 profiles between shallow and deep dives of sea lions reflect distinct strategies of O-2 store management and suggest that underlying cardiovascular responses will also differ.

McDonald, BI, Ponganis PJ.  2014.  Deep-diving sea lions exhibit extreme bradycardia in long-duration dives. Journal of Experimental Biology. 217:1525-1534.   10.1242/jeb.098558   AbstractWebsite

Heart rate and peripheral blood flow distribution are the primary determinants of the rate and pattern of oxygen store utilisation and ultimately breath-hold duration in marine endotherms. Despite this, little is known about how otariids (sea lions and fur seals) regulate heart rate (f(H)) while diving. We investigated dive f(H) in five adult female California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) during foraging trips by instrumenting them with digital electrocardiogram (ECG) loggers and time depth recorders. In all dives, dive f(H) (number of beats/duration; 50 +/- 9 beats min(-1)) decreased compared with surface rates (113 +/- 5 beats min(-1)), with all dives exhibiting an instantaneous f(H) below resting (<54 beats min(-1)) at some point during the dive. Both dive f(H) and minimum instantaneous f(H) significantly decreased with increasing dive duration. Typical instantaneous f(H) profiles of deep dives (>100 m) consisted of: (1) an initial rapid decline in f(H) resulting in the lowest instantaneous f(H) of the dive at the end of descent, often below 10 beats min-1 in dives longer than 6 min in duration; (2) a slight increase in f(H) to similar to 10-40 beats min(-1) during the bottom portion of the dive; and (3) a gradual increase in f(H) during ascent with a rapid increase prior to surfacing. Thus, f(H) regulation in deep-diving sea lions is not simply a progressive bradycardia. Extreme bradycardia and the presumed associated reductions in pulmonary and peripheral blood flow during late descent of deep dives should (a) contribute to preservation of the lung oxygen store, (b) increase dependence of muscle on the myoglobin-bound oxygen store, (c) conserve the blood oxygen store and (d) help limit the absorption of nitrogen at depth. This f(H) profile during deep dives of sea lions may be characteristic of deep-diving marine endotherms that dive on inspiration as similar f(H) profiles have been recently documented in the emperor penguin, another deep diver that dives on inspiration.

McDonald, BI, Ponganis PJ.  2012.  Lung collapse in the diving sea lion: hold the nitrogen and save the oxygen. Biology Letters. 8:1047-1049.   10.1098/rsbl.2012.0743   AbstractWebsite

Lung collapse is considered the primary-mechanism that limits nitrogen absorption and decreases the risk of decompression sickness in deep-diving marine mammals. Continuous arterial partial pressure of oxygen (P-O2) profiles in a free-diving female California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) revealed that (i) depth of lung collapse was near 225 m as evidenced by abrupt changes in P-O2 during descent and ascent, (ii) depth of lung collapse was positively related to maximum dive depth, suggesting that the sea lion increased inhaled air volume in deeper dives and (iii) lung collapse at depth preserved a pulmonary oxygen reservoir that supplemented blood oxygen during ascent so that mean end-of-dive arterial P-O2 was 74+/-17 mmHg (greater than 85% haemoglobin saturation). Such information is critical to the understanding and the modelling of both nitrogen and oxygen transport in diving marine mammals.

Meir, JU, Ponganis PJ.  2009.  High-affinity hemoglobin and blood oxygen saturation in diving emperor penguins. Journal of Experimental Biology. 212:3330-3338.   10.1242/jeb.033761   AbstractWebsite

The emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) thrives in the Antarctic underwater environment, diving to depths greater than 500m and for durations longer than 23 min. To examine mechanisms underlying the exceptional diving ability of this species and further describe blood oxygen (O(2)) transport and depletion while diving, we characterized the O(2)-hemoglobin (Hb) dissociation curve of the emperor penguin in whole blood. This allowed us to (1) investigate the biochemical adaptation of Hb in this species, and (2) address blood O(2) depletion during diving, by applying the dissociation curve to previously collected partial pressure of O(2) (P(O2)) profiles to estimate in vivo Hb saturation (S(O2)) changes during dives. This investigation revealed enhanced Hb-O(2) affinity (P(50)=28mmHg, pH7.5) in the emperor penguin, similar to high-altitude birds and other penguin species. This allows for increased O(2) at low blood P(O2) levels during diving and more complete depletion of the respiratory O(2) store. S(O2) profiles during diving demonstrated that arterial S(O2) levels are maintained near 100% throughout much of the dive, not decreasing significantly until the final ascent phase. End-of-dive venous S(O2) values were widely distributed and optimization of the venous blood O(2) store resulted from arterialization and near complete depletion of venous blood O(2) during longer dives. The estimated contribution of the blood O(2) store to diving metabolic rate was low and highly variable. This pattern is due, in part, to the influx of O(2) from the lungs into the blood during diving, and variable rates of tissue O(2) uptake.

Meir, JU, Robinson PW, Vilchis LI, Kooyman GL, Costa DP, Ponganis PJ.  2013.  Blood oxygen depletion is independent of dive function in a deep diving vertebrate, the northern elephant seal. Plos One. 8   10.1371/journal.pone.0083248   AbstractWebsite

Although energetics is fundamental to animal ecology, traditional methods of determining metabolic rate are neither direct nor instantaneous. Recently, continuous blood oxygen (O-2) measurements were used to assess energy expenditure in diving elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris), demonstrating that an exceptional hypoxemic tolerance and exquisite management of blood O-2 stores underlie the extraordinary diving capability of this consummate diver. As the detailed relationship of energy expenditure and dive behavior remains unknown, we integrated behavior, ecology, and physiology to characterize the costs of different types of dives of elephant seals. Elephant seal dive profiles were analyzed and O-2 utilization was classified according to dive type (overall function of dive: transit, foraging, food processing/rest). This is the first account linking behavior at this level with in vivo blood O-2 measurements in an animal freely diving at sea, allowing us to assess patterns of O-2 utilization and energy expenditure between various behaviors and activities in an animal in the wild. In routine dives of elephant seals, the blood O-2 store was significantly depleted to a similar range irrespective of dive function, suggesting that all dive types have equal costs in terms of blood O-2 depletion. Here, we present the first physiological evidence that all dive types have similarly high blood O-2 demands, supporting an energy balance strategy achieved by devoting one major task to a given dive, thereby separating dive functions into distinct dive types. This strategy may optimize O-2 store utilization and recovery, consequently maximizing time underwater and allowing these animals to take full advantage of their underwater resources. This approach may be important to optimizing energy expenditure throughout a dive bout or at-sea foraging trip and is well suited to the lifestyle of an elephant seal, which spends >90% of its time at sea submerged making diving its most "natural" state.

Meir, JU, Ponganis PJ.  2010.  Blood temperature profiles of diving elephant seals. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 83:531-540.   10.1086/651070   AbstractWebsite

Hypothermia-induced reductions in metabolic rate have been proposed to suppress metabolism and prolong the duration of aerobic metabolism during dives of marine mammals and birds. To determine whether core hypothermia might contribute to the repetitive long-duration dives of the northern elephant seal Mirounga angustirostris, blood temperature profiles were obtained in translocated juvenile elephant seals equipped with a thermistor and backpack recorder. Representative temperature (the y-intercept of the mean temperature vs. dive duration relationship) was 37.2 degrees +/- 0.6 degrees C (n=3 seals) in the extradural vein, 38.1 degrees +/- 0.7 degrees C (n=4 seals) in the hepatic sinus, and 38.8 degrees +/- 16 degrees C (n=6 seals) in the aorta. Mean temperature was significantly though weakly negatively related to dive duration in all but one seal. Mean venous temperatures of all dives of individual seals ranged between 36 degrees and 38 degrees C, while mean arterial temperatures ranged between 35 degrees and 39 degrees C. Transient decreases in venous and arterial temperatures to as low as 30 degrees-33 degrees C occurred in some dives >30 min (0.1% of dives in the study). The lack of significant core hypothermia during routine dives (10-30 min) and only a weak negative correlation of mean temperature with dive duration do not support the hypothesis that a cold-induced Q(10) effect contributes to metabolic suppression of central tissues during dives. The wide range of arterial temperatures while diving and the transient declines in temperature during long dives suggest that alterations in blood flow patterns and peripheral heat loss contribute to thermoregulation during diving.

Meir, JU, Stockard TK, Williams CL, Ponganis KV, Ponganis PJ.  2008.  Heart rate regulation and extreme bradycardia in diving emperor penguins. Journal of Experimental Biology. 211:1169-1179.   10.1242/jeb.013235   AbstractWebsite

To investigate the diving heart rate (f(H)) response of the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), the consummate avian diver, birds diving at an isolated dive hole in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica were outfitted with digital electrocardiogram recorders, two-axis accelerometers and time depth recorders ( TDRs). In contrast to any other freely diving bird, a true bradycardia (fH significantly < f(H) at rest) occurred during diving [dive fH (total beats/duration)= 57 +/- 2 beats min(-1), f(H) at rest= 73 +/- 2 beats min(-1) ( mean +/- s. e. m.)]. For dives less than the aerobic dive limit ( ADL; duration beyond which [ blood lactate] increases above resting levels), dive f(H)= 85 +/- 3 beats min(-1), whereas f H in dives greater than the ADL was significantly lower (41 +/- 1 beats min(-1)). In dives greater than the ADL, f(H) reached extremely low values: f H during the last 5 mins of an 18 min dive was 6 beats min(-1). Dive f H and minimum instantaneous f(H) during dives declined significantly with increasing dive duration. Dive f(H) was independent of swim stroke frequency. This suggests that progressive bradycardia and peripheral vasoconstriction ( including isolation of muscle) are primary determinants of blood oxygen depletion in diving emperor penguins. Maximum instantaneous surface interval f(H) in this study is the highest ever recorded for emperor penguins ( 256 beats min(-1)), equivalent to f(H) at V-O2 max., presumably facilitating oxygen loading and post-dive metabolism. The classic Scholander-Irving dive response in these emperor penguins contrasts with the absence of true bradycardia in diving ducks, cormorants, and other penguin species.

Meir, JU, Champagne CD, Costa DP, Williams CL, Ponganis PJ.  2009.  Extreme hypoxemic tolerance and blood oxygen depletion in diving elephant seals. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 297:R927-R939.   10.1152/ajpregu.00247.2009   AbstractWebsite

Meir JU, Champagne CD, Costa DP, Williams CL, Ponganis PJ. Extreme hypoxemic tolerance and blood oxygen depletion in diving elephant seals. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 297: R927-R939, 2009. First published July 29, 2009; doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00247.2009.-Species that maintain aerobic metabolism when the oxygen (O(2)) supply is limited represent ideal models to examine the mechanisms underlying tolerance to hypoxia. The repetitive, long dives of northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) have remained a physiological enigma as O(2) stores appear inadequate to maintain aerobic metabolism. We evaluated hypoxemic tolerance and blood O(2) depletion by 1) measuring arterial and venous O(2) partial pressure (PO(2)) during dives with a PO(2)/temperature recorder on elephant seals, 2) characterizing the O(2) hemoglobin (O(2)-Hb) dissociation curve of this species, 3) applying the dissociation curve to PO(2) profiles to obtain %Hb saturation (SO(2)), and 4) calculating blood O(2) store depletion during diving. Optimization of O(2) stores was achieved by high venous O(2) loading and almost complete depletion of blood O(2) stores during dives, with net O(2) content depletion values up to 91% (arterial) and 100% (venous). In routine dives (>10 min) Pv(O2) and Pa(O2) values reached 2-10 and 12-23 mmHg, respectively. This corresponds to SO(2) of 1-26% and O(2) contents of 0.3 (venous) and 2.7 ml O(2)/dl blood (arterial), demonstrating remarkable hypoxemic tolerance as PaO(2) is nearly equivalent to the arterial hypoxemic threshold of seals. The contribution of the blood O(2) store alone to metabolic rate was nearly equivalent to resting metabolic rate, and mean temperature remained near 37 degrees C. These data suggest that elephant seals routinely tolerate extreme hypoxemia during dives to completely utilize the blood O(2) store and maximize aerobic dive duration.