Haematological and rheological characteristics of blood in seven marine mammal species: physiological implications for diving behaviour


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The haeniatological and rheological characteristics of blood from seven marine mammal species have been examined to determine the relationship between increased haematocrit. which is correlated with the ability to increase aerobic dive limits. and blood viscosity. The species examined reflect adaptations to a variety of marine niches ranging from coastal to pelagic to iceedge environments. and exhibit a wide range of diving behaviours. Average haematocrits ranged from43–45% in bottlenose dolphins. killer whales and California sea lions to more than 60% in the deeper diving species (beluga whales and northern elephant seals). Whole blood viscosity () increased exponentially with haematocrit (= 0.96*e0-0335*Hct). representin a two-fold increase from 4.1 cP for killer whale blood to 8.9 cP for northern elephant seal. There was no apparent compensatory mechanism to reduce viscosity at any shear rate. The optimal haematocrit for oxygen transport was calculated to be40–50% for all species tested. The species with lower haematocrits were within optimal values for oxygen transport. while the two species with the highest haematocrits (beluga whales and northern elephant seals) were above predicted optimal oxygen transport values. On the basis of comparisons of the diving behaviour of these seven species, we suggest that marine mammal species with the greatest adaptation for increased oxygen stores via increased haematocrit have the capacity for deep, long-duration dives, but a limited oxygen transport capacity. We predict that this compromise precludes fast sustainable swimming behaviour in these species.