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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1996 Jan;80(1):298-306.

Splenic contraction, catecholamine release, and blood volume redistribution during diving in the Weddell seal.

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Department of Anesthesia, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114.


The spleen of the Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddelli) may contract and inject red blood cells (RBCs) into the peripheral circulation during diving, but evidence for this hypothesis is indirect. Accordingly, we measured splenic dimensions by ultrasonography, plasma catecholamine concentrations, hemoglobin concentration, and hematocrit in five Weddell seals before and after intravenous epinephrine during halothane anesthesia and while awake at the surface after voluntary dives. Spleen size was reduced immediately after epinephrine injection or after the seal surfaced. Within the first 2 min after the seal surfaced, cephalocaudal splenic length was 71 +/- 2% (mean +/- SD; P < 0.05) and splenic thickness was 71 +/- 4% (P < 0.05) of the maximal resting values. Splenic size increased (half-time = 6-9 min) after the seal surfaced and was inversely correlated with plasma epinephrine and norepinephrine concentrations. Hemoglobin concentration increased from 17.5 +/- 5.3 g/dl (measured during general anesthesia) to 21.9 +/- 3.7 g/dl (measured in the first 2 min after surfacing). At these same times, the hematocrit increased from 44 +/- 12 to 55 +/- 8%. These values decreased (half-time = 12-16 min) after the seal surfaced. We estimate 20.1 liters of RBCs were sequestered at rest, presumably in the spleen, and released either on epinephrine injection or during diving. Catecholamine release and splenic contraction appear to be an integral part of the voluntary diving response of Weddell seals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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