Body density and diving gas volume of the northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus)

Patrick Miller*, Tomoko Narazaki, Saana Isojunno, Kagari Suzuki, Sophie Caroline Smout, Katsufumi Sato

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Diving lung volume and tissue density, reflecting lipid store volume, are important physiological parameters that have only been estimated for a few breath-hold diving species. We fitted 12 northern bottlenose whales with data loggers that recorded depth, 3-axis acceleration and speed either with a fly-wheel or from change of depth corrected by pitch angle.We fitted measured values of the change in speed during 5 s descent and ascent glides to a hydrodynamic model of drag and buoyancy forces using a Bayesian estimation framework. The resulting estimate of diving gas volume was 27.4±4.2 (95% credible interval, CI) ml kg−1, closely matching the measured lung capacity of the species. Dive-by-dive variation in gas volume did not correlate with dive depth or duration. Estimated body densities of individuals ranged from 1028.4 to 1033.9 kg m−3 at the sea surface, indicating overall negative tissue buoyancy of this species in seawater. Body density estimates were highly precise with ±95% CI ranging from 0.1to 0.4 kg m−3, which would equate to a precision of <0.5% of lipid content based upon extrapolation from the elephant seal. Six whales tagged near Jan Mayen (Norway, 71°N) had lower body density and were closer to neutral buoyancy than six whales tagged in the Gully (Nova Scotia, Canada, 44°N), a difference that was consistent with the amount of gliding observed during ascent versus descent phases in these animals. Implementation of this approach using longer duration tags could be used to track longitudinal changes in body density and lipid store body condition of free-ranging cetaceans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2458-2468
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number16
Early online date13 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2016


  • Body condition
  • Lipid
  • Hydrodynamic performance
  • Drag
  • Buoyancy


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