Sink or Swim ... or Glide

Photo: John CalambokidisA blue whale diving off the coast of Northern California. Whales, dolphins, and seals seem to defy reality with every deep dive into the big blue. They descend tens to hundreds of meters and, despite limited oxygen, can stay submerged for 30 minutes or more. How they achieve these feats has mystified oceanic observers since physiological studies first began some 70 years ago. During the last several years, a team of researchers headed by Terrie M. Williams, profess

A. J. S. Rayl
Jul 9, 2000

Photo: John Calambokidis

A blue whale diving off the coast of Northern California.
Whales, dolphins, and seals seem to defy reality with every deep dive into the big blue. They descend tens to hundreds of meters and, despite limited oxygen, can stay submerged for 30 minutes or more. How they achieve these feats has mystified oceanic observers since physiological studies first began some 70 years ago.

During the last several years, a team of researchers headed by Terrie M. Williams, professor of biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has taken a series of virtual journeys into the ocean worlds of a bottlenose dolphin, a blue whale, an elephant seal, and three Weddell seals. Now they've surfaced with data that reveal these animals not only 'got game,' they 'got strategy.'

The researchers recently reported1 that these deep-diving marine mammals conserve energy by gliding rather than swimming to...

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