The Physiology of

Cetacean Respiration

A bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), one of the most recognizable cetaceans. Photo provided by

Though diverse in size, appearance and habitat, cetaceans all face similar respiratory challenges. Their environment requires that they stay beneath the ocean’s surface for sustained periods of time even though they are air breathers like all other mammals. This arrangement creates unique physiological issues: how to efficiently store enough oxygen to remain active during deep and lengthy dives; how to maximize the amount of time spent underwater while still receiving sufficient amounts of air; how to avoid losing water during exhalation; how to keep vascular gases from compressing into the bloodstream during high-pressure dives. Over time all of these problems have been solved with anatomical adaptations and behavioral modifications that have helped to make the cetacean respiratory system one of nature’s most physiologically efficient systems.
























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This website was created as a part of a class project in the Animal Physiology Class at Davidson College