Unsteady-state gas exchange and storage in diving marine mammals: the harbor porpoise and gray seal

RG Boutilier, JZ Reed, Michael Andre Fedak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Breath-by-breath measurements of end-tidal O-2 and CO2 concentrations in harbor porpoise reveal that the respiratory gas exchange ratio (R-R; CO2 output/O-2 uptake) of the first lung ventilation in a breathing bout after a prolonged breath-hold is always well below the animal's metabolic respiratory quotient (RQ) of 0.85. Thus the longest apneic pauses are always followed by an initial breath having a very low RR (0.6-0.7), which thereafter increases with each subsequent breath to values in excess of 1.2. Although the O-2 stores of the body are fully readjusted after the first three to four breaths following a prolonged apneic pause, a further three to four ventilations are always needed, not to load more O-2 but to eliminate built-up levels of CO2. The slower readjustment of CO2 stores relates to their greater magnitude and to the fact that they must be mobilized from comparatively large and chemically complex HCO3-/CO2 stores that are built up in the blood and tissues during the breath-hold. These data, and similar measurements on gray seals (12), indicate that it is the readjustment of metabolic RQ and not O-2 stores per se that governs the amount of time an animal must spend ventilating at the surface after a dive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R490-R494
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology. Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2001


  • respiratory quotient
  • respiratory gas exchange ratio
  • O-2 and CO2 stores


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