Send to

Choose Destination
J Exp Biol. 2007 Aug;210(Pt 15):2607-17.

Blood oxygen depletion during rest-associated apneas of northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris).

Author information

Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, CA 92093-0204, USA.


Blood gases (P(O)2, P(CO)2, pH), oxygen content, hematocrit and hemoglobin concentration were measured during rest-associated apneas of nine juvenile northern elephant seals. In conjunction with blood volume determinations, these data were used to determine total blood oxygen stores, the rate and magnitude of blood O(2) depletion, the contribution of the blood O(2) store to apneic metabolic rate, and the degree of hypoxemia that occurs during these breath-holds. Mean body mass was 66+/-9.7 kg (+/- s.d.); blood volume was 196+/-20 ml kg(-1); and hemoglobin concentration was 23.5+/-1.5 g dl(-1). Rest apneas ranged in duration from 3.1 to 10.9 min. Arterial P(O)2 declined exponentially during apnea, ranging between a maximum of 108 mmHg and a minimum of 18 mmHg after a 9.1 min breath-hold. Venous P(O)2 values were indistinguishable from arterial values after the first minute of apnea; the lowest venous P(O)2 recorded was 15 mmHg after a 7.8 min apnea. O(2) contents were also similar between the arterial and venous systems, declining linearly at rates of 2.3 and 2.0 ml O(2) dl(-1) min(-1), respectively, from mean initial values of 27.2 and 26.0 ml O(2) dl(-1). These blood O(2) depletion rates are approximately twice the reported values during forced submersion and are consistent with maintenance of previously measured high cardiac outputs during rest-associated breath-holds. During a typical 7-min apnea, seals consumed, on average, 56% of the initial blood O(2) store of 52 ml O(2) kg(-1); this contributed 4.2 ml O(2) kg(-1) min(-1) to total body metabolic rate during the breath-hold. Extreme hypoxemic tolerance in these seals was demonstrated by arterial P(O)2 values during late apnea that were less than human thresholds for shallow-water blackout. Despite such low P(O)2s, there was no evidence of significant anaerobic metabolism, as changes in blood pH were minimal and attributable to increased P(CO)2. These findings and the previously reported lack of lactate accumulation during these breath-holds are consistent with the maintenance of aerobic metabolism even at low oxygen tensions during rest-associated apneas. Such hypoxemic tolerance is necessary in order to allow dissociation of O(2) from hemoglobin and provide effective utilization of the blood O(2) store.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire
Loading ...
Support Center