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Blood Oxygen Conservation in Diving Sea Lions: How Low Does Oxygen Really Go

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Technical Report

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University of California San Diego La Jolla United States

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California sea lions Zalophus californianus from San Nicolas Island regularly perform 350-meter deep dives during maternal foraging trips to sea. The physiology of these extreme dives is relevant to the development of the sea lion as a model to investigate deep diving physiology and the avoidance of decompression sickness in a marine mammal. Such a model is essential to better understand the potential role of decompression sickness in the etiology of the stranding of beaked whales after exposure to naval sonar as well as to evaluate the value and accuracy of the many numerical models of nitrogen uptake and distribution in these animals. This project continues prior physiological investigations with these animals and focuses on the relationship of blood oxygen depletion patterns during dives to heart rate and muscle workload.

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