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Ponganis, PJ, Kooyman GL.  1999.  Heart rate and electrocardiogram characteristics of a young California gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus). Marine Mammal Science. 15:1198-1207.   10.1111/j.1748-7692.1999.tb00885.x   AbstractWebsite

Electrocardiogram (ECG) analyses of Holter monitor recordings from a young California gray whale were performed to determine ECG waveform characteristics, evaluate the heart rate pattern for sinus arrhythmia, obtain resting heart rates at known body masses as the whale increased in size, and compare those heart rates with predicted heart rates from allometric equations. The PR and QRS intervals (475 +/- 35 msec, 208 +/- 24 msec, respectively, n = 20) support the concept (Meijler et al. 1992) that atrioventricular transmission and ventricular excitation times do not increase linearly in very large mammals. A sinus arrhythmia pattern at rest (apneic heart rates of 15-25 beats per min [bpm] and eupneic heart rates of 34-40 bpm) is consistent with a relative eupneic tachycardia and apneic bradycardia during diving activity of whales. The heart rate-body mass measurements (35-24 bpm at body masses of 3,531-8,200 kg) in this study (1) extend the range of allometric heart rate and body mass data in mammals a full order of magnitude, to almost 10,000 kg, (2) support the use of allometric equations (based primarily on mammals <1,000 kg in body mass) in estimating resting heart rates in whales, and (3) demonstrate that previously reported heart rates in large whales are not representative of resting heart rate, probably secondary to circumstances during measurement.

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.

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.

Ponganis, PJ, McDonald BI, Tift MS, Williams CL.  2017.  Heart rate regulation in diving sea lions: the vagus nerve rules. Journal of Experimental Biology. 220:1372-1381.   10.1242/jeb.146779   AbstractWebsite

Recent publications have emphasized the potential generation of morbid cardiac arrhythmias secondary to autonomic conflict in diving marine mammals. Such conflict, as typified by cardiovascular responses to cold water immersion in humans, has been proposed to result from exercise-related activation of cardiac sympathetic fibers to increase heart rate, combined with depth-related changes in parasympathetic tone to decrease heart rate. After reviewing the marine mammal literature and evaluating heart rate profiles of diving California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), we present an alternative interpretation of heart rate regulation that de-emphasizes the concept of autonomic conflict and the risk of morbid arrhythmias in marine mammals. We hypothesize that: (1) both the sympathetic cardiac accelerator fibers and the peripheral sympathetic vasomotor fibers are activated during dives even without exercise, and their activities are elevated at the lowest heart rates in a dive when vasoconstriction is maximal, (2) in diving animals, parasympathetic cardiac tone via the vagus nerve dominates over sympathetic cardiac tone during all phases of the dive, thus producing the bradycardia, (3) adjustment in vagal activity, which may be affected by many inputs, including exercise, is the primary regulator of heart rate and heart rate fluctuations during diving, and (4) heart beat fluctuations (benign arrhythmias) are common in marine mammals. Consistent with the literature and with these hypotheses, we believe that the generation of morbid arrhythmias because of exercise or stress during dives is unlikely in marine mammals.

Kooyman, GL, Ponganis PJ, Castellini MA, Ponganis EP, Ponganis KV, Thorson PH, Eckert SA, Lemaho Y.  1992.  Heart rates and swim speeds of Emperor penguins diving under sea ice. Journal of Experimental Biology. 165:161-180. AbstractWebsite

Heart rate during overnight rest and while diving were recorded from five emperor penguins with a microprocessor-controlled submersible recorder. Heart rate, cardiac output and stroke volume were also measured in two resting emperor penguins using standard electrocardiography and thermodilution measurements. Swim velocities from eight birds were obtained with the submersible recorder. The resting average of the mean heart rates was 72 beats min-1. Diving heart rates were about 15% lower than resting rates. Cardiac outputs of 1.9-2.9 ml kg-1 s-1 and stroke volumes of 1.6-2.7 ml kg-1 were similar to values recorded from mammals of the same body mass. Swim velocities averaged 3 m s-1. The swim speeds and heart rates suggest that muscle O2 depletion must occur frequently: therefore, many dives require a significant energy contribution from anaerobic glycolysis.

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.

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.

Zenteno-Savin, T, Leger JS, Ponganis PJ.  2010.  Hypoxemic and ischemic tolerance in emperor penguins. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology C-Toxicology & Pharmacology. 152:18-23.   10.1016/j.cbpc.2010.02.007   AbstractWebsite

Oxygen store depletion and a diving bradycardia in emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) expose tissues to critical levels of hypoxemia and ischemia. To assess the prevention of re-perfusion injury and reactive oxygen species (ROS) damage in emperor penguins, superoxide radical production, lipid peroxidation (thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS)), and antioxidant enzyme activity profiles in biopsy samples from muscle and liver were determined and compared to those in the chicken and 8 species of flighted marine birds (non-divers and plunge divers). In muscle of emperor penguins, superoxide production and TBARS levels were not distinctly different from those in the other species; among the antioxidant enzymes, catalase (CAT) and glutathione-S-transferase (GST) activities were significantly elevated above all species. In the liver of emperor penguins, TBARS levels were not significantly different from other species; only CAT activity was significantly elevated, although GST and glutathione peroxidase (GPX) activities were 2-3 times higher than those in other species. The potential for ROS formation and lipid peroxidation is not reduced in the pectoral muscle or liver of the emperor penguin. Scavenging of hydrogen peroxide by CAT and the conjugation of glutathione with reactive intermediates and peroxides by GST and GPX appear to be important in the prevention of ROS damage and re-perfusion injury in these birds. (C) 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.