Orcas’ One-Breath Mystery – Marine Biologists Confirm Longstanding Hypothesis

Orca Killer Whale

A recent study using drone footage and biological tags on 11 killer whales off the coast of British Columbia reveals that orcas take only one breath between dives and primarily engage in short, shallow dives. The research also provides insights into orca breathing patterns and energy needs, indicating how much fish they require daily for conservation efforts.

Research shows that killer whales take just one breath between short, shallow dives, with findings aiding in the conservation by estimating their daily fish requirements.

A recent study has verified a longstanding assumption: orcas only breathe once between dives.

The researchers used drone footage and biological data from tags suction-cupped to 11 northern and southern resident killer whales off the coast of B.C. to gather information on the animals’ habits.

Whaley fun facts

Published in PLOS ONE, the study found that residents spend most of their time making shallow dives, with the majority of dives less than one minute. The longest dive recorded was 8.5 minutes, for an adult male. “Killer whales are like sprinters who don’t have the marathon endurance of blue and humpback whales to make deep and prolonged dives,” said co-author Dr. Andrew Trites, professor in the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries (IOF).

For how many fish could an orca wish?

Confirming orcas take only one breath between dives allowed the researchers to calculate how many liters of oxygen adults and juveniles consume per minute. This provides another piece of the puzzle in estimating orca energy expenditure, and eventually, how many fish the animals need to eat per day. “Researchers can then work out if the orcas are getting enough food, including the endangered southern residents, a key factor in their conservation,” said first author Tess McRae, IOF masters student.

Breathe like an orca

Killer whales in the study took 1.2 to 1.3 breaths per minute while resting and 1.5 to 1.8 while traveling or hunting. Comparatively, humans tend to take about 15 breaths per minute when resting and from 40 to 60 while exercising. “It’s the equivalent of holding your breath and running to the grocery store, shopping, and coming back before breathing again,” said co-author Dr. Beth Volpov, IOF postdoctoral fellow.

Reference: “Killer whale respiration rates” by Tess M. McRae, Beth L. Volpov, Evan Sidrow, Sarah M. E. Fortune, Marie Auger-Méthé, Nancy Heckman and Andrew W. Trites, 15 May 2024, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0302758

2 Comments on "Orcas’ One-Breath Mystery – Marine Biologists Confirm Longstanding Hypothesis"

  1. MOHAMMED ALI HUMRAN | May 30, 2024 at 11:01 pm | Reply

    i would like to know more about marine innovation

  2. MOHAMMED ALI HUMRAN | May 30, 2024 at 11:03 pm | Reply

    I’m a Ph.D. researcher, Yemen and I’m Geopolitical and Strategic planning. Currently, President the Union of Arab Academics. I’m interested in geopolitics, international relations, research, development, and innovations. regional maritime innovation and strategic management in Red Sea and Indian ocean

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