New insight into the world’s deepest-diving mammal

There’s so much we still don’t know.

Image: Joseph Tepper
Image: Joseph Tepper

Recent research that focused on Cuvier’s beaked whales has aid marine biologists to know more about the world’s deepest-diving mammal. Scientists found that the Cuvier’s beaked whales dive almost two miles underwater and barely need to catch a breath.

For the study, scientists studied Cuvier’s beaked whales at the depths of the ocean, where temperatures and pressures push the limits of physical capabilities of mammals. They also used satellite-linked dive recording to get better intellect of their activities under the water.

Jeanne Shearer, a doctoral student in ecology at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment said, “It has been difficult to gather data from their dives since the whales are found in an area about two hours away by boat.”

“We are interested in these animals because of their amazing diving abilities and because there’s still so much we can learn about them.”

The whales are supposed to spend very little time at the surface and dives that are nearly 5,000 feet deep on average and up to approximately 9,200 feet. And due to their limited span on the surface, it was literally difficult to get recordings.

Shearer explained, “Although it isn’t fully understood which aspects of their physiology allow them to maintain such deep dives with little recovery time. It may be due to their muscle fibers having a heightened capacity for oxygen.”

“Beaked whales also vary in their diving behavior based on region. For example, the whales in the Atlantic Ocean dive slightly deeper but for a shorter duration than beaked whales in other regions of the world.”

“We are continuing to tag and study the dives and social behaviors of beaked whales in the Atlantic Ocean off the United States, which will help to gain a better understanding of the factors possibly contributing to their impressive diving depths.”

“For beaked whales, the answer to most of the questions is still ‘we don’t know’ but as more studies emerge, we will start to get a better picture of these amazing divers.”

The report is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.