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Tift, MS, Ponganis PJ, Crocker DE.  2014.  Elevated carboxyhemoglobin in a marine mammal, the northern elephant seal. Journal of Experimental Biology. 217:1752-1757.   10.1242/jeb.100677   AbstractWebsite

Low concentrations of endogenous carbon monoxide (CO), generated primarily through degradation of heme from hemeproteins, have been shown to maintain physiological function of organs and to exert cytoprotective effects. However, high concentrations of carboxyhemoglobin (COHb), formed by CO binding to hemoglobin, potentially prevent adequate O-2 delivery to tissues by lowering arterial O-2 content. Elevated heme-protein concentrations, as found in marine mammals, are likely associated with greater heme degradation, more endogenous CO production and, consequently, elevated COHb concentrations. Therefore, we measured COHb in elephant seals, a species with large blood volumes and elevated hemoglobin and myoglobin concentrations. The levels of COHb were positively related to the total hemoglobin concentration. The maximum COHb value was 10.4% of total hemoglobin concentration. The mean (+/- s.e.m.) value in adult seals was 8.7 +/- 0.3% (N=6), while juveniles and pups (with lower heme-protein contents) had lower mean COHb values of 7.6 +/- 0.2% and 7.1 +/- 0.3%, respectively (N=9 and N=9, respectively). Serial samples over several hours revealed little to no fluctuation in COHb values. This consistent elevation in COHb suggests that the magnitude and/ or rate of heme-protein turnover is much higher than in terrestrial mammals. The maximum COHb values from this study decrease total body O-2 stores by 7%, thereby reducing the calculated aerobic dive limit for this species. However, the constant presence of elevated CO in blood may also protect against potential ischemia-reperfusion injury associated with the extreme breath-holds of elephant seals. We suggest the elephant seal represents an ideal model for understanding the potential cytoprotective effects, mechanisms of action and evolutionary adaptation associated with chronically elevated concentrations of endogenously produced CO.

Tift, MS, Huckstadt LA, McDonald BI, Thorson PH, Ponganis PJ.  2017.  Flipper stroke rate and venous oxygen levels in free-ranging California sea lions. Journal of Experimental Biology. 220:1533-1540.   10.1242/jeb.152314   AbstractWebsite

The depletion rate of the blood oxygen store, development of hypoxemia and dive capacity are dependent on the distribution and rate of blood oxygen delivery to tissues while diving. Although blood oxygen extraction by working muscle would increase the blood oxygen depletion rate in a swimming animal, there is little information on the relationship between muscle workload and blood oxygen depletion during dives. Therefore, we examined flipper stroke rate, a proxy of muscle workload, and posterior vena cava oxygen profiles in four adult female California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) during foraging trips at sea. Flipper stroke rate analysis revealed that sea lions minimized muscle metabolism with a stroke-glide strategy when diving, and exhibited prolonged glides during the descent of deeper dives (>100 m). During the descent phase of these deep dives, 55 +/- 21% of descent was spent gliding, with the longest glides lasting over 160 s and covering a vertical distance of 340 m. Animals also consistently glided to the surface from 15 to 25 m depth during these deeper dives. Venous hemoglobin saturation (SO2) profiles were highly variable throughout dives, with values occasionally increasing during shallow dives. The relationship between SO2 and flipper stroke rate was weak during deeper dives, while this relationship was stronger during shallow dives. We conclude that (1) the depletion of oxygen in the posterior vena cava in deep-diving sea lions is not dependent on stroke effort, and (2) stroke-glide patterns during dives contribute to a reduction of muscle metabolic rate.

Tift, MS, Huckstadt LA, Ponganis PJ.  2018.  Anterior vena caval oxygen profiles in a deep-diving California sea lion: arteriovenous shunts, a central venous oxygen store and oxygenation during lung collapse. Journal of Experimental Biology. 221   10.1242/jeb.163428   AbstractWebsite

Deep-diving California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) can maintain arterial hemoglobin saturation (S-O2) above 90% despite lung collapse (lack of gas exchange) and extremely low posterior vena caval S-O2 in the middle of the dive. We investigated anterior vena caval P-O2 and S-O2 during dives of an adult female sea lion to investigate two hypotheses: (1) posterior vena caval S-O2 is not representative of the entire venous oxygen store and (2) a well-oxygenated (arterialized) central venous oxygen reservoir might account for maintenance of arterial S-O2 during lung collapse. During deep dives, initial anterior vena caval S-O2 was elevated at 83.6 +/- 8.4% (n = 102), presumably owing to arteriovenous shunting. It remained high until the bottom phase of the dive and then decreased during ascent, whereas previously determined posterior vena caval S-O2 declined during descent and then often increased during ascent. These divergent patterns confirmed that posterior vena caval S-O2 was not representative of the entire venous oxygen store. Prior to and early during descent of deep dives, the high S-O2 values of both the anterior and posterior venae cavae may enhance arterialization of a central venous oxygen store. However, anterior vena caval S-O2 values at depths beyond lung collapse reached levels as low as 40%, making it unlikely that even a completely arterialized central venous oxygen store could account for maintenance of high arterial S-O2. These findings suggest that maintenance of high arterial S-O2 during deep dives is due to persistence of some gas exchange at depths beyond presumed lung collapse.