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Cuvier's Beaked Whale Sets Records for Longest and Deepest Dive

Mar 27, 2014 11:28 AM EDT

If prizes were awarded to deep diving marine mammals, the Cuvier's beaked whale would be the champion, according to a new study, which reports the cetacean has the longest, deepest dive on record.

Writing in the journal PLOS One, a team of scientists from the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Wash. describe the deep-diving habits of the whale, which can hold its breath for more than two hours and dive nearly 2 miles beneath the water's surface.

Cuvier's beaked whales have always has a reputation for deep diving, but the mammals are so good at it that tracking and timing their dives has proved difficult.

"Though it is the most broadly distributed beaked whale species, they remain poorly understood, as their behavior, especially their preference for deep water habitat typically far from shore, makes them notoriously difficult to study," the Cascadia researchers reported in PLOS One

Using a set of advanced satellite tags, the researchers were for the first time able to collect data on the whale's diving patterns, confirming what they've suspected all along: the Cuvier's beaked whale is a superlative diver.

One whale they tracked off the California coast set new records for depth and length of dive, clocking in at 137.5 minutes and reaching a depth of 2,992 meters (1.9 miles).

"Many creatures live at the depths these whales dive to, including their likely primary prey of squid and fish. However, there is a major difference between these whales and the other creatures living deep in the ocean - the fundamental requirement to breathe air at the surface," study leader Greg Schorr told Reuters. "Taking a breath at the surface and holding it while diving to pressures over 250 times that at the surface is an astounding feat."

The record-breaking dives of the Cuvier's beaked whale surpass the southern elephant seal, which previously held the position as the marine mammal with the longest, deepest dive on record. A 2010 study documented one of the seals diving to 2,388 meters, and a 1992 study times a southern elephant seal's dive at 120 minutes.

The longest time a human has held their breath underwater is 22 minutes, Reuters reported, and a person could not even come close to the depths of these deep-diving mammals without being crushed by the intense pressure.

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