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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.

Wright, AK, Ponganis KV, McDonald BI, Ponganis PJ.  2014.  Heart rates of emperor penguins diving at sea: implications for oxygen store management. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 496:85-98.   10.3354/meps10592   AbstractWebsite

Heart rate (f(H)) contributes to control of blood oxygen (O-2) depletion through regulation of the magnitude of pulmonary gas exchange and of peripheral blood flow in diving vertebrates such as penguins. Therefore, we measured H during foraging trip dives of emperor penguins Aptenodytes forsteri equipped with digital electrocardiogram (ECG) recorders and time depth recorders (TDRs). Median dive f(H) (total heartbeats/duration, 64 beats min(-1)) was higher than resting H (56 beats min(-1)) and was negatively related to dive duration. Median dive f(H) in dives greater than the 5.6 min aerobic dive limit (ADL; dive duration associated with the onset of a net accumulation of lactic acid above resting levels) was significantly less than the median dive f(H) of dives less than the ADL (58 vs. 66 beats min(-1)). f(H) profile patterns differed between shallow (<50 m) and deep dives (>250 m), with values usually declining to levels near resting f(H) in shallow, short-duration dives, and to levels as low as 10 beats min(-1) during the deepest segments of deep dives. The total number of heartbeats in a dive was variable in shallow dives and consistently high in deep dives. A true bradycardia (f(H) below resting levels) during segments of 31% of shallow and deep dives of emperor penguins is consistent with reliance on myoglobin-bound O-2 stores for aerobic muscle metabolism that is especially accentuated during the severe bradycardias of deep dives. Although f(H) is low during the deepest segments of deep dives, the total number and distribution of heartbeats in deep, long dives suggest that pulmonary gas exchange and peripheral blood flow primarily occur at shallow depths.

Sato, K, Shiomi K, Marshall G, Kooyman GL, Ponganis PJ.  2011.  Stroke rates and diving air volumes of emperor penguins: implications for dive performance. Journal of Experimental Biology. 214:2854-2863.   10.1242/jeb.055723   AbstractWebsite

Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri), both at sea and at an experimental dive hole, often have minimal surface periods even after performance of dives far beyond their measured 5.6 min aerobic dive limit (ADL: dive duration associated with the onset of post-dive blood lactate accumulation). Accelerometer-based data loggers were attached to emperor penguins diving in these two different situations to further evaluate the capacity of these birds to perform such dives without any apparent prolonged recovery periods. Minimum surface intervals for dives as long as 10 min were less than 1 min at both sites. Stroke rates for dives at sea were significantly greater than those for dives at the isolated dive hole. Calculated diving air volumes at sea were variable, increased with maximum depth of dive to a depth of 250 m, and decreased for deeper dives. It is hypothesized that lower air volumes for the deepest dives are the result of exhalation of air underwater. Mean maximal air volumes for deep dives at sea were approximately 83% greater than those during shallow (<50 m) dives. We conclude that (a) dives beyond the 5.6. min ADL do not always require prolongation of surface intervals in emperor penguins, (b) stroke rate at sea is greater than at the isolated dive hole and, therefore, a reduction in muscle stroke rate does not extend the duration of aerobic metabolism during dives at sea, and (c) a larger diving air volume facilitates performance of deep dives by increasing the total body O(2) store to 68 ml O(2) kg(-1). Although increased O(2) storage and cardiovascular adjustments presumably optimize aerobic metabolism during dives, enhanced anaerobic capacity and hypoxemic tolerance are also essential for longer dives. This was exemplified by a 27.6 min dive, after which the bird required 6 min before it stood up from a prone position, another 20 min before it began to walk, and 8.4 h before it dived again.

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.

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.

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.

Ponganis, PJ, Stockard TK, Meir JU, Williams CL, Ponganis KV, Howard R.  2009.  O-2 store management in diving emperor penguins. Journal of Experimental Biology. 212:217-224.   10.1242/jeb.026096   AbstractWebsite

In order to further define O-2 store utilization during dives and understand the physiological basis of the aerobic dive limit (ADL, dive duration associated with the onset of post-dive blood lactate accumulation), emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) were equipped with either a blood partial pressure of oxygen (P-O2) recorder or a blood sampler while they were diving at an isolated dive hole in the sea ice of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Arterial P-O2 profiles (57 dives) revealed that (a) pre-dive P-O2 was greater than that at rest, (b) P-O2 transiently increased during descent and (c) post-dive P-O2 reached that at rest in 1.92 +/- 1.89 min (N=53). Venous P-O2 profiles (130 dives) revealed that (a) pre-dive venous P-O2 was greater than that at rest prior to 61% of dives, (b) in 90% of dives venous P-O2 transiently increased with a mean maximum P-O2 of 53 +/- 18 mmHg and a mean increase in P-O2 of 11 +/- 12 mmHg, (c) in 78% of dives, this peak venous P-O2 occurred within the first 3 min, and (d) post-dive venous P-O2 reached that at rest within 2.23 +/- 2.64 min (N=84). Arterial and venous P-O2 values in blood samples collected 1-3 min into dives were greater than or near to the respective values at rest. Blood lactate concentration was less than 2 mmol l(-1) as far as 10.5 min into dives, well beyond the known ADL of 5.6 min. Mean arterial and venous P-N2 of samples collected at 20-37 m depth were 2.5 times those at the surface, both being 2.1 +/- 0.7 atmospheres absolute (ATA; N=3 each), and were not significantly different. These findings are consistent with the maintenance of gas exchange during dives (elevated arterial and venous P-O2 and P-N2 during dives), muscle ischemia during dives (elevated venous P-O2, lack of lactate washout into blood during dives), and arterio-venous shunting of blood both during the surface period (venous P-O2 greater than that at rest) and during dives (arterialized venous P-O2 values during descent, equivalent arterial and venous P-N2 values during dives). These three physiological processes contribute to the transfer of the large respiratory O-2 store to the blood during the dive, isolation of muscle metabolism from the circulation during the dive, a decreased rate of blood O-2 depletion during dives, and optimized loading of O-2 stores both before and after dives. The lack of blood O-2 depletion and blood lactate elevation during dives beyond the ADL suggests that active locomotory muscle is the site of tissue lactate accumulation that results in post-dive blood lactate elevation in dives beyond the ADL.

Ponganis, PJ, Stockard TK, Meir JU, Williams CL, Ponganis KV, Van Dam RP, Howard R.  2007.  Returning on empty: extreme blood O-2 depletion underlies dive capacity of emperor penguins. Journal of Experimental Biology. 210:4279-4285.   10.1242/jeb.011221   AbstractWebsite

Blood gas analyses from emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) at rest, and intravascular P-O2 profiles from free-diving birds were obtained in order to examine hypoxemic tolerance and utilization of the blood O-2 store during dives. Analysis of blood samples from penguins at rest revealed arterial P(O2)s and O-2 contents of 68 +/- 7 mmHg (1 mmHg= 133.3 Pa) and 22.5 +/- 1.3 ml O-2 dl(-1) (N= 3) and venous values of 41 +/- 10 mmHg and 17.4 +/- 2.9 ml O-2 dl(-1) (N= 9). Corresponding arterial and venous Hb saturations for a hemoglobin (Hb) concentration of 18 g dl(-1) were > 91% and 70%, respectively. Analysis of P-O2 profiles obtained from birds equipped with intravascular P-O2 electrodes and backpack recorders during dives revealed that (1) the decline of the final blood P-O2 of a dive in relation to dive duration was variable, (2) final venous P-O2 values spanned a 40-mmHg range at the previously measured aerobic dive limit (ADL; dive duration associated with onset of post-dive blood lactate accumulation), (3) final arterial, venous and previously measured air sac P-O2 values were indistinguishable in longer dives, and (4) final venous P-O2 values of longer dives were as low as 1-6 mmHg during dives. Although blood O-2 is not depleted at the ADL, nearly complete depletion of the blood O-2 store occurs in longer dives. This extreme hypoxemic tolerance, which would be catastrophic in many birds and mammals, necessitates biochemical and molecular adaptations, including a shift in the O-2-Hb dissociation curve of the emperor penguin in comparison to those of most birds. A relatively higher-affinity Hb is consistent with blood P-O2 values and O-2 contents of penguins at rest.

Ponganis, PJ, Van Dam RP, Levenson DH, Knower T, Ponganis KV, Marshall G.  2003.  Regional heterothermy and conservation of core temperature in emperor penguins diving under sea ice. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology a-Molecular & Integrative Physiology. 135:477-487.   10.1016/s1095-6433(03)00133-8   AbstractWebsite

Temperatures were recorded at several body sites in emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) diving at an isolated dive hole in order to document temperature profiles during diving and to evaluate the role of hypothermia in this well-studied model of penguin diving physiology. Grand mean temperatures (+/-S.E.) in central body sites during dives were: stomach: 37.1 +/- 0.2 degreesC (n = 101 dives in five birds), pectoral muscle: 37.8 +/- 0.1 degreesC (n = 71 dives in three birds) and axillary/brachial veins: 37.9 +/- 0.1 degreesC (n = 97 dives in three birds). Mean diving temperature and duration correlated negatively at only one site in one bird (femoral vein, r = -0.59, P < 0.05; range < 1 degreesC). In contrast, grand mean temperatures in the wing vein, foot vein and lumbar subcutaneous tissue during dives were 7.6 +/- 0.7 degreesC (n = 157 dives in three birds), 20.2 +/- 1.2 degreesC (n = 69 in three birds) and 35.2 +/- 0.2 degreesC (n = 261 in six birds), respectively. Mean limb temperature during dives negatively correlated with diving duration in all six birds (r = -0.29 to -0.60, P < 0.05). In two of six birds, mean diving subcutaneous temperature negatively correlated with diving duration (r = -0.49 and -0.78, P < 0.05). Sub-feather temperatures decreased from 31 to 35 T during rest periods to a grand mean of 15.0 +/- 0.7 degreesC during 68 dives of three birds; mean diving temperature and duration correlated negatively in one bird (r = -0.42, P < 0.05). In general, pectoral, deep venous and even stomach temperatures during diving reflected previously measured vena caval temperatures of 37-39 degreesC more closely than the anterior abdominal temperatures (19-30 degreesC) recently recorded in diving emperors. Although prey ingestion can result in cooling in the stomach, these findings and the lack of negative correlations between internal temperatures and diving duration do not support a role for hypothermia-induced metabolic suppression of the abdominal organs as a mechanism of extension of aerobic dive time in emperor penguins diving at the isolated dive hole. Such high temperatures within the body and the observed decreases in limb, anterior abdomen, subcutaneous and sub-feather temperatures are consistent with preservation of core temperature and cooling of an outer body shell secondary to peripheral vasoconstriction, decreased insulation of the feather layer, and conductive/convective heat loss to the water environment during the diving of these emperor penguins. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All fights reserved.

Van Dam, RP, Ponganis PJ, Ponganis KV, Levenson DH, Marshall G.  2002.  Stroke frequencies of emperor penguins diving under sea ice. Journal of Experimental Biology. 205:3769-3774. AbstractWebsite

During diving, intermittent swim stroke patterns, ranging from burst/coast locomotion to prolonged gliding, represent potential energy conservation mechanisms that could extend the duration of aerobic metabolism and, hence, increase the aerobic dive limit (ADL, dive duration associated with onset of lactate accumulation). A 5.6 min ADL for emperor penguins had been previously determined with lactate measurements after dives of <50 m depth. In order to assess locomotory patterns during such dives, longitudinal acceleration was measured with an attached accelerometer in 44 dives of seven adult birds diving from an isolated dive hole in the sea ice of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Detection of wing strokes in processed accelerometer data was verified in selected birds with analysis of simultaneous Crittercam underwater video footage. Mean dive duration of birds equipped with the accelerometer and a time-depth recorder (TDR) was 5.7+/-2.2 min; 48% of these dives were greater than the measured 5.6 min ADL (ADL(M)). Highest stroke frequencies (0.92+/-0.31Hz, N=981) occurred during the initial descent to 12 m depth. Swimming effort was reduced to a mean stroke frequency <0.70 Hz during other phases of the dive (while traveling below 12 m depth, during foraging ascents/descents to and from the sub-ice surface, and during final ascents to exit). The longest stroke interval (8.6 s) occurred during a feeding excursion to the undersurface of the ice. In dives >ADL(M), mean stroke frequency during travel segments was significantly less than that in dives 10 s) periods of prolonged gliding during these shallow (<60 m) foraging dives. However, a stroke/glide pattern was evident with more than 50% of strokes associated with a stroke interval >1.6 s, and with lower stroke frequency associated with increased dive duration.

Ponganis, PJ, Van Dam RP, Knower T, Levenson DH.  2001.  Temperature regulation in emperor penguins foraging under sea ice. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology a-Molecular and Integrative Physiology. 129:811-820.   10.1016/s1095-6433(01)00349-x   AbstractWebsite

Inferior vena caval (IVC) and anterior abdominal (AA) temperatures were recorded in seven emperor penguins (Aptenodytes foresteri) foraging under sea ice in order to evaluate the hypothesis that hypothermia-induced metabolic suppression might extend aerobic diving time. Diving durations ranged from 1 to 12.5 min, with 39% of dives greater than the measured aerobic dive limit of 5.6 min. Anterior abdominal temperature decreased progressively throughout dives, and partially returned to pre-dive values during surface intervals. The lowest AA temperature was 19 degreesC. However, mean AA temperatures during dives did not correlate with diving durations. In six of seven penguins, only minor fluctuations in IVC temperatures occurred during diving. These changes were often elevations in temperature. In the one exception, although IVC temperatures decreased, the reductions were less than those in the anterior abdomen and did not correlate with diving durations. Because of these findings, we consider it unlikely that regional hypothermia in emperor penguins leads to a significant reduction in oxygen consumption of the major organs within the abdominal core. Rather, temperature profiles during dives are consistent with a model of regional heterothermy with conservation of core temperature, peripheral vasoconstriction, and cooling of an outer body shell. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.

Kooyman, GL, Ponganis PJ.  1998.  The physiological basis of diving to depth: Birds and mammals. Annual Review of Physiology. 60:19-32.   10.1146/annurev.physiol.60.1.19   AbstractWebsite

There is wide diversity in the animals that dive to depth and in the distribution of their body oxygen stores. A hallmark of animals diving to depth is a substantial elevation of muscle myoglobin concentration. In deep divers, more than 80% of the oxygen store is in the blood and muscles. How these oxygen stores are managed, particularly within muscle, is unclear. The aerobic endurance of four species has now been measured. These measurements provide a standard for other species in which the limits cannot be measured. Diving to depth requires several adaptations to the effects of pressure. In mammals, one adaptation is lung collapse at shallow depths, which limits absorption of nitrogen. Blood Nz levels remain below the threshold for decompression sickness. No such adaptive model is known for birds. There appear to be two diving strategies used by animals that dive to depth. Seals, for example, seldom rely on anaerobic metabolism. Birds, on the other hand, frequently rely on anaerobic metabolism to exploit prey-rich depths otherwise unavailable to them.

Ponganis, PJ, Kooyman GL, Winter LM, Starke LN.  1997.  Heart rate and plasma lactate responses during submerged swimming and trained diving in California sea lions, Zalophus californianus. Journal of Comparative Physiology B-Biochemical Systemic and Environmental Physiology. 167:9-16.   10.1007/s003600050042   AbstractWebsite

California sea lions, Zalophus californianus, were trained to elicit maximum voluntary breath holds during stationary underwater targeting, submerged swimming, and trained diving. Lowest heart rate during rest periods was 57 bpm. The heart rate profiles in all three protocols were dominated by a bradycardia of 20-50 bpm, and demonstrated that otariid diving heart rates were at or below resting heart rate. Venous blood samples were collected after submerged swimming periods of 1-3 min. Plasma lactate began to increase only after 2.3-min submersions. This rise in lactate and our inability to train sea lions to dive or swim submerged for periods longer than 3 min lead us to conclude that an aerobic limit had been reached. Due to the similarity of heart rate responses and swimming velocities recorded during submerged swimming and trained diving, this 2.3-min limit should approximate the aerobic dive limit in these 40-kg sea lions. Total body O-2 stores, based on measurements of blood and muscle O-2 stores in these animals, and prior lung O-2 Store analyses, were 37-43 ml O-2 kg(-1). The aerobic dive limit, calculated with these O-2 stores and prior measurements of at-sea metabolic rates of sea lions, is 1.8-2 min, similar to that measured by the change in post-submersion lactate concentration.