, Volume 90, Issue 3-4, pp 387-395
Date: 04 Jul 2003

Locomotor behaviours and respiratory pattern of the Mediterranean fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus )

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Twenty-four Mediterranean fin whales were tracked in open sea with a method based on the assessment of the animal differential position in respect of the observer's absolute position aboard a vessel, with the concomitant recording of the respiratory activity. Short distance video recording was also performed in two whales, permitting the simultaneous determination of single breath expiratory (T E) and inspiratory (T I) durations. In the 24 whales swimming at an average velocity of 1.39 (0.47) m·s−1 [mean (SD), range: 0.62–2.44 m·s−1], 2068 breaths organized in 477 respiratory cycles were observed. Each cycle entailed a prolonged apnoea dive phase [225 (91) s, T dive) followed by a period near the surface [62 (28) s, surfacing], during which a series of breaths [4.6 (1.8)] was performed at short intervals. On the basis of track length and swimming velocity, two groups of animals were devised differing for convolution of the course (p<0.001), extension of ranging territory (p<0.01) and horizontal swimming velocity (p<0.05), which may represent two distinct behaviours. A possibly general mechanism of control of breathing in cetaceans was found, consistent with a model of constant tidal volume and variable respiratory frequency. Coherently with this model, T E was independent of T I or T dive, in line with a passive expiration, while T I appeared to be negatively correlated with T dive (p<0.05), otherwise suggesting, similarly with terrestrial mammals, a significant role of hypercapnic stimulation. The estimated O2 consumption of about 150 l·min−1 is in line with the general allometric regression for mammals and corresponds to an energetic expenditure of 85–95 kJ·kg−1·day−1.