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Swimming speed, respiration rate, and estimated cost of transport in adult killer whales

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Abstract

The physiology of free-ranging cetaceans is difficult to study and as a consequence, data on the energetics of these animals are limited. To better understand the energetic cost of swimming in killer whales, total cost of transport (COT) was estimated from swimming speeds and respiration rates from wild adult northern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) and reported values of oxygen consumption in captive whales. Respiration rate (breaths per minute) was positively correlated with swimming speed (meters per second), while mass-specific COT (Joules per kilogram per meter) decreased with speed. Lack of data on very fast-swimming animals hindered assessment of the exact speed at which COT was minimal. However, minimum mass-specific COT for killer whales in the present study approached those predicted by a previously published allometric equation for marine mammals, and corresponded to “optimal” swimming speeds of 2.6–3 m/s. Interestingly, the observed average swimming speed (1.6 m/s) was lower than predicted optimal swimming speed. Finally, females with dependent calves had higher respiration rates than females without calves. These findings could be due to synchronous breathing with calves or could result from increased costs of lactation and swimming with a calf in echelon formation. Consequently, females with calves may have much greater COT at optimal swimming speeds than females without calves.

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