Publications

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2018
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.

2017
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.

2014
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.

2013
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.

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.

2012
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.

2011
Ponganis, PJ, Meir JU, Williams CL.  2011.  In pursuit of Irving and Scholander: a review of oxygen store management in seals and penguins. Journal of Experimental Biology. 214:3325-3339.   10.1242/jeb.031252   AbstractWebsite

Since the introduction of the aerobic dive limit (ADL) 30 years ago, the concept that most dives of marine mammals and sea birds are aerobic in nature has dominated the interpretation of their diving behavior and foraging ecology. Although there have been many measurements of body oxygen stores, there have been few investigations of the actual depletion of those stores during dives. Yet, it is the pattern, rate and magnitude of depletion of O(2) stores that underlie the ADL. Therefore, in order to assess strategies of O(2) store management, we review (a) the magnitude of O(2) stores, (b) past studies of O(2) store depletion and (c) our recent investigations of O(2) store utilization during sleep apnea and dives of elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) and during dives of emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri). We conclude with the implications of these findings for (a) the physiological responses underlying O(2) store utilization, (b) the physiological basis of the ADL and (c) the value of extreme hypoxemic tolerance and the significance of the avoidance of re-perfusion injury in these animals.

2010
Sato, K, Shiomi K, Watanabe Y, Watanuki Y, Takahashi A, Ponganis PJ.  2010.  Scaling of swim speed and stroke frequency in geometrically similar penguins: they swim optimally to minimize cost of transport. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 277:707-714.   10.1098/rspb.2009.1515   AbstractWebsite

It has been predicted that geometrically similar animals would swim at the same speed with stroke frequency scaling with mass(-1/3). In the present study, morphological and behavioural data obtained from free-ranging penguins (seven species) were compared. Morphological measurements support the geometrical similarity. However, cruising speeds of 1.8-2.3 m s(-1) were significantly related to mass(0.08) and stroke frequencies were proportional to mass(-0.29). These scaling relationships do not agree with the previous predictions for geometrically similar animals. We propose a theoretical model, considering metabolic cost, work against mechanical forces (drag and buoyancy), pitch angle and dive depth. This new model predicts that: (i) the optimal swim speed, which minimizes the energy cost of transport, is proportional to (basal metabolic rate/drag)(1/3) independent of buoyancy, pitch angle and dive depth; (ii) the optimal speed is related to mass(0.05); and (iii) stroke frequency is proportional to mass(-0.28). The observed scaling relationships of penguins support these predictions, which suggest that breath-hold divers swam optimally to minimize the cost of transport, including mechanical and metabolic energy during dive.

Ponganis, PJ, Meir JU, Williams CL.  2010.  Oxygen store depletion and the aerobic dive limit in emperor penguins. Aquatic Biology. 8:237-245.   10.3354/ab00216   AbstractWebsite

The aerobic dive limit (ADL), dive duration associated with the onset of post-dive blood lactate elevation, has been widely used in the interpretation of diving physiology and diving behavior. However, its physiological basis is incompletely understood, and in most studies, ADLs are simply calculated with an O(2) store/O(2) consumption formula. To better understand the ADL, research has been conducted on emperor penguins diving at an isolated dive hole. This work has revealed that O(2) stores are greater than previously estimated, and that the rate of depletion of those O(2) stores appears to be regulated primarily through a diving bradycardia and the efficiency of swimming. Blood and respiratory O(2) stores are not depleted at the 5.6 min ADL determined by post-dive blood lactate measurements. It is hypothesized that muscle, isolated from the circulation during a dive, is the primary source of lactate accumulation. To predict this 5.6 min ADL for these shallow dives at the isolated dive hole with the classic O(2) store/O(2) consumption formula, an O(2) consumption rate of 2x the predicted metabolic rate of a penguin at rest is required. In contrast, if the formula is used to calculate an ADL that is defined as the time for all consumable O(2) stores to be depleted, then a 23.1 min dive, in which final venous partial pressure of oxygen (P(O2)) was 6 mm Hg (0.8 kPa), represents such a maximum limit and demonstrates that an O(2) consumption rate of about 0.5x the predicted rate of an emperor penguin at rest is required in the formula.

2009
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.

2007
Ponganis, PJ.  2007.  Bio-logging of physiological parameters in higher marine vertebrates. Deep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography. 54:183-192.   10.1016/j.dsr2.2006.11.009   AbstractWebsite

Bio-logging of physiological parameters in higher marine vertebrates had its origins in the field of bio-telemetry in the 1960s and 1970s. The development of microprocessor technology allowed its first application to bio-logging investigations of Weddell seal diving physiology in the early 1980s. Since that time, with the use of increased memory capacity, new sensor technology, and novel data processing techniques, investigators have examined heart rate, temperature, swim speed, stroke frequency, stomach function (gastric pH and motility), heat flux, muscle oxygenation, respiratory rate, diving air volume, and oxygen partial pressure (PO(2)) during diving. Swim speed, heart rate, and body temperature have been the most commonly studied parameters. Bio-logging investigation of pressure effects has only been conducted with the use of blood samplers and nitrogen analyses on animals diving at isolated dive holes. The advantages/disadvantages and limitations of recording techniques, probe placement, calibration techniques, and study conditions are reviewed. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2005
Sato, K, Ponganis PJ, Habara Y, Naito Y.  2005.  Emperor penguins adjust swim speed according to the above-water height of ice holes through which they exit. Journal of Experimental Biology. 208:2549-2554.   10.1242/jeb.01665   AbstractWebsite

Emperor penguins leap from the water onto the sea ice. Their ability to reach above-water height depends critically on initial vertical speed of their leaping, assuming that the kinetic energy is converted to gravitational potential energy. We deliberately changed the above-water heights of ice hole exits, in order to examine whether penguins adjusted swim speed in accordance with the above-water height of the ice. Penguins were maintained in a corral on the fast ice in Antarctica, and voluntarily dived through two artificial ice holes. Data loggers were deployed on the penguins to monitor under water behavior. Nine instrumented penguins performed 386 leaps from the holes during experiments. The maximum swim speeds within 1 s before the exits through the holes correlated significantly with the above-water height of the holes. Penguins adopted higher speed to exit through the higher holes than through the lower holes. Speeds of some failed exits were lower than the theoretical minimum values to reach a given height. Penguins failed to exit onto the sea ice in a total of 37 of the trials. There was no preference to use lower holes after they failed to exit through the higher holes. Rather, swim speed was increased for subsequent attempts after failed leaps. These data demonstrated that penguins apparently recognized the above-water height of holes and adopted speeds greater than the minimal vertical speeds to reach the exit height. It is likely, especially in the case of higher holes (>40 cm), that they chose minimum speeds to exit through the holes to avoid excess energy for swimming before leaping. However, some exceptionally high speeds were recorded when they directly exited onto the ice from lower depths. In those cases, birds could increase swim speed without strokes for the final seconds before exit and they only increased the steepness of their body angles as they surfaced, which indicates that the speed required for leaps by emperor penguins were aided by buoyancy, and that penguins can sometimes exit through the ice holes without any stroking effort before leaping.

2000
Ponganis, PJ, Kooyman GL.  2000.  Diving physiology of birds: a history of studies on polar species. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology a-Molecular and Integrative Physiology. 126:143-151.   10.1016/s1095-6433(00)00208-7   AbstractWebsite

Our knowledge of avian diving physiology has been based primarily on research with polar species. Since Scholander's 1940 monograph, research has expanded from examination of the 'diving reflex' to studies of free-diving birds, and has included laboratory investigations of oxygen stores, muscle adaptations, pressure effects, and cardiovascular/metabolic responses to swimming exercise. Behavioral and energetic studies at sea have shown that common diving durations of many avian species exceed the calculated aerobic diving limits (ADL). Current physiological research is focused on factors, such as heart rate and temperature, which potentially affect the diving metabolic rate and duration of aerobic diving. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.

1999
Ponganis, PJ, Kooyman GL, Van Dam R, Lemaho Y.  1999.  Physiological responses of king penguins during simulated diving to 136 m depth. Journal of Experimental Biology. 202:2819-2822. AbstractWebsite

To evaluate blood N-2 uptake and the role of the respiratory volume (air sacs/lungs) as a N-2 and O-2 reservoir in deep-diving penguins, diving respiratory volume (V-DR), heart rate (f(H)), venous P-N2, blood volume (V-b) and hemoglobin (Hb) concentration were measured in king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) during forced submersions and compressions equivalent to depths up to 136 m, V-DR was 69+/-18 ml kg(-1) (mean +/- S.D.) in 62 submersions ranging from 4.4 atmospheres absolute (ATA; 1 ATA=101 kPa) (34 m) to 14.6 ATA (136 m), Submersion f(H) averaged 30+/-7 beats min(-1) (N=18), approximately 20% of pre- and post-submersion values. Venous P-N2 values during and after submersions as deep as 11.2 ATA (102 m) were all less than 2.8 atmospheres N-2 (283 kPa) above ambient pressure, a previously measured threshold for symptomatic bubble formation. Mean V-b was 83+/-8 ml kg(-1) (N=6); [Hb] was 17.6+/-0.7 g dl(-1) (N=7), On a mass-specific basis, mean V-DR, and therefore total available N-2, is 41% of that in shallow-diving penguin species. Total body O-2 stores, calculated from measured V-DR, V-b, [Hb], muscle mass and myoglobin concentration, are 45 ml kg(-1), with 23 % in the respiratory system. This small respiratory fraction in comparison with that in shallow-diving penguins suggests a lesser reliance on the respiratory oxygen store for extended breath-holding and also a reduced uptake of nitrogen at depth.