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Anatomical and Physiological Adaptation of the Sperm Whale to Deep Diving

Comparison of the structure and physiology of the sperm whale body to that of the man during free diving.

Stephanie Fafard-Rousseau

on 18 October 2012

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Transcript of Anatomical and Physiological Adaptation of the Sperm Whale to Deep Diving

0m - 0ft 100m - 330ft 200m - 660ft 300m - 990ft 400m - 1320ft 500m - 1650ft 600m - 1980ft 700m - 2310ft 800m - 2640ft 900m - 2970ft 1000m - 3300ft 1100m - 3630ft 1200m - 3960ft 1300m - 4290ft 1400m - 4620ft 1500m - 4950ft 1600m - 5280ft 1700m - 5610ft 1800m - 5940ft 1900m - 6270ft 2000m - 6600ft 2100m - 6930ft 2200m - 7260ft 2300m - 7590ft 2400m - 7920ft 2500m - 8250ft 2600m - 4580ft 2700m - 8910ft 2800m - 9240ft 2900m - 9570ft 3000m - 9900ft 121m - 397ft US modern nuclear Seawolf-class submarine
maximum operating depth 490m - 1600ft (Collapse depth: 720m - 2400ft) Depth: 490m - 1600ft
Pressure on hull: 49atm - 720psi
Water temperature: 14°C - 57°F Routine hunting depth of sperm whales
(mostly females):400m - 1320ft Depth: 400m - 1320ft
Hydrostatic pressure: 40atm - 588psi
Water temperature: 17°C - 63°F World record freediver no fins William Trubridge dove down to 101 m - 331ft and back up on one breath of air on December 16th, 2010. Depth: 101m - 331ft
Hydrostatic pressure: 10atm - 149psi
Water temperature: 23°C - 73°F Sperm whale maximum depth recorded: 3000m - 9900ft Dive time of more than 2h recorded by whalers after the whale was harpooned How? 101 - 331ft 490m - 1600ft Through physical and physiological adaptations! Deep sea diving presents 3 major challenges for mammals Crushing pressure Buoyancy Oxygen Depth: 3000m - 9900ft
Hydrostatic pressure: 300atm or 4410psi
Temperature: 3°C - 37°F At 3000m - 9900ft, the column of water above the animal is so heavy (800 times * 300atm), it would crush any air filled bone cavity of the body including: Middle ears
Anatomical Non-ossified ribcage

Why? Middle ear and pharyngotympanic tube lined with
blood vessels No frontal sinuses
Other sinuses lined with blood vessels

Why? Special surfactant lines the alveoli, brochioles and respiratory bronchioles

Why? AND Blood vessels engorge during dive, pushing the air out. Since blood is mostly made of water, same hydrostatic pressure inside and outside the cavities = no collapse! ANSWER: ANSWER: Ribcage becomes flexible and collapsible, allowing the complete collapse of the lungs instead of broken ribs from the pressure. ANSWER: It allows the re-inflation of the alveoli and respiratory bronchioles after full collapse of the lungs. Without it, the surface tension would be so high that in order to re-inflate the alveoli, one would have to push air in at a greater pressure than what the alveoli themselves could sustain, bursting them in the process. First law of buoyancy:

"A body immersed in a fluid experiences a vertical buoyant force equal to the weight of the fluid it displaces"

If body is denser than water, it sinks;
If body is less dense than water, it floats;
If body is same density than water, no change in depth occurs. Knowing this, how can the sperm whale dive 3km - 9900ft deep, hunt, and dive back up on one breath of air?
Think about when you trade water while swiming. How much energy do you spent to keep your body from sinking aka keep your head above the water?
Surely fighting its own natural buoyancy must be energy costly... CHALLENGE: When structure meets function Spermaceti organ, blubber composition, blood vessels, and modified left nasal opening all work together as a "ballast" to adjust dive depth. The sperm whale literally sinks and rises like a submarine (though head first), saving it the effort and energy of swimming up and down. When at the appropriate dept, differential blubber composition stabilizes the whale in its natural upright position. How do they do it? Spermaceti organ filled with spermaceti a waxy-like substance. Turns solid (gets denser) at lower temperature and therefore compresses to a smaller volume. Enlarged left nasal opening
passes through the spermaceti organ instead of under. Cold water is sucked into left nasal passage, cooling down spermaceti. Also, the blubber composition varies throughout the body:
High in fibrous tissues on head to create a collapsible exoskeleton protecting the spermaceti and echolocation organs
High in protein content in ventral region to give negative buoyancy.
High in lipid content in dorsal region to give positive buoyancy. The blubber (layer of fat under the skin typical of whales and seals) on top of spermaceti organs is highly vascular. When sperm whale wants to rise, it pushes the water out of its left nasal passage and increases blood flow to the head blubber, warming up the spermaceti. Warmed spermaceti melts and expands, increasing buoyancy. How long can you hold your breath? Sink or Swim? A child falls through the thin ice layer of a pond in the middle of January. He spends 45 min under water before being rescued. He is reanimated at the hospital and suffers no brain damage from his near drowning experience. How is this possible? The Mammalian Diving Reflex: When the head of any mammal gets in contact with cold water (less than 21°C - 70°F), 3 things happen:
Bradycardia: 10% to 25% reduction for humans, 40% and more for sperm whale
Peripheral and spleen Vasoconstriction: increase BP and hematocrit
During deep dives, membranes of organs become leaky to water in thoracic cage. Alveoli are filled with blood plasma. The diving reflex explains a lot, but not everything Other oxygen-related adaptations of the sperm whale Naturally high red blood cell levels (2X that of humans)
to carry more oxygen Naturally high levels of myoglobin in muscles (10X that of humans) to cope with the peripheral vasoconstriction. No bone marrow in long bones of flipper to avoid both blood poisoning from osteonecrosis and stress fractures from decompression. Complete lung collaspe to avoid both nitrogen narcosis and oxygen returning to lungs as whale comes back up Sperm whales glide down to hunt, only using their flipper to stir until they are close to their prey, then start swimming again. Oxygen also is conserved by keeping heat in using a countercurrent heat exchange system. Higher mass specific blood volume:
Sperm whale:
200 to 250 mL of blood / kg
70 mL of blood / kg Depth: 0m - 0ft
Pressure: 1atm (although not felt since our body also exerts 1atm on the environment)
Water temperature: 23°C - 73°F
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