Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 184, Issue 8, pp 1065–1076 | Cite as

Living in the fast lane: rapid development of the locomotor muscle in immature harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena)

  • Shawn R. Noren
  • Dawn P. Noren
  • Joseph K. Gaydos
Original Paper


Cetaceans (dolphins and whales) are born into the aquatic environment and are immediately challenged by the demands of hypoxia and exercise. This should promote rapid development of the muscle biochemistry that supports diving, but previous research on two odontocete (toothed whales and dolphins) species showed protracted postnatal development for myoglobin content and buffering capacity. A minimum of 1 and 1.5 years were required for Fraser’s (Lagenodelphis hosei) and bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus) dolphins to obtain mature myoglobin contents, respectively; this corresponded to their lengthy 2 and 2.5-year calving intervals (a proxy for the dependency period of cetacean calves). To further examine the correlation between the durations for muscle maturation and maternal dependency, we measured myoglobin content and buffering capacity in the main locomotor muscle (longissimus dorsi) of harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), a species with a comparatively short calving interval (1.5 years). We found that at birth, porpoises had 51 and 69 % of adult levels for myoglobin and buffering capacity, respectively, demonstrating greater muscle maturity at birth than that found previously for neonatal bottlenose dolphins (10 and 65 %, respectively). Porpoises achieved adult levels for myoglobin and buffering capacity by 9–10 months and 2–3 years postpartum, respectively. This muscle maturation occurred at an earlier age than that found previously for the dolphin species. These results support the observation that variability in the duration for muscular development is associated with disparate life history patterns across odontocetes, suggesting that the pace of muscle maturation is not solely influenced by exposure to hypoxia and exercise. Though the mechanism that drives this variability remains unknown, nonetheless, these results highlight the importance of documenting the species-specific physiological development that limits diving capabilities and ultimately defines habitat utilization patterns across age classes.


Myoglobin Acid buffering capacity Diving capacity Marine mammal Cetacean Odontocete 



Collection of samples was supported in part by funding from the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal and Rescue Assistance Grant through NOAA Fisheries. Analysis of samples was supported by NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center. We thank the volunteers and staff at the San Juan Marine Mammal Stranding Network and the Whale Museum, especially A. Traxler, for providing samples for this study. We also thank G. Ylitalo and L. Rhodes and their staff at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center for providing laboratory equipment and bench space for sample analysis. We thank D. Somo for assistance with sample analysis and M.L. Dolar for providing raw data from Dolar et al. (1999). Finally, we thank the laboratory group of T.M Williams for providing insightful comments on previous versions of this manuscript. Collection of samples from stranded harbor porpoises was authorized by the NOAA Northwest Regional Office (now the West Coast Regional Office). All experiments comply with the current laws of the United States of America.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (outside the USA) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shawn R. Noren
    • 1
  • Dawn P. Noren
    • 2
  • Joseph K. Gaydos
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Marine ScienceUniversity of California, Center of Ocean HealthSanta CruzUSA
  2. 2.Conservation Biology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries ServiceNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationSeattleUSA
  3. 3.UC Davis Wildlife Health Center-Orcas Island OfficeEastsoundUSA

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