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Respir Physiol. 1983 Dec;54(3):269-94.

Respiratory adaptations in diving mammals.


This report examines the evidence for the presence of oxygen stores in the lungs, blood and systemic musculature of diving mammals, the modifications in the respiratory functions of blood that may be important in utilizing the lung and blood oxygen stores, and the potential importance of the oxygen stores and the respiratory functions of blood in supporting short-duration, aerobic dives. Increasing oxygen stores by increasing lung volume does not occur in diving mammals. The long-duration diving whales have small lung volumes which results in lung collapse during dives and the seals dive following partial expiration which produces the same effect. The short-duration diving dolphins, porpoises and rodents have lung volumes comparable to terrestrial mammals, dive following inspiration and appear to use the lungs as an oxygen store. Adaptations in the oxygen affinity of the blood parallel the modifications in lung volume. Where the lungs do not represent a potential oxygen store the oxygen affinity is low, maximizing the unloading of oxygen while maintaining a high tissue oxygen tension. Where the lungs do represent an oxygen store, the affinity is high, maximizing the uptake of oxygen from the alveolar space. Increases in the concentration of respiratory pigment in the blood and in muscle are important adaptations in diving mammals. The blood oxygen stores in diving mammals vary from near normal to over three times normal for terrestrial mammals while the muscle oxygen stores vary from near normal to nearly ten times normal. The degree to which the blood and muscle oxygen stores are increased can be equated to the duration of the dive and demands for oxygen; longer duration divers and those with higher metabolic demands have greater oxygen stores than divers that remain submersed for shorter periods or have lower rates of oxygen utilization.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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