Cetaceans have a unique method of respiration requiring extended breath hold periods essential to many critical activities, such as foraging, navigating, and communicating. Neonates develop the ability to hold their breath for longer periods early in development, but this phenomenon is not well studied. Many factors (e.g. physiological, social, environmental) influence respiratory development during the first year of life. Thirteen subjects were studied using ethogram data from a longitudinal project on mother-calf interactions to determine if sex, age, water temperature, proximity, configuration or parity of the mother significantly influenced calf breath hold capacity over time. Having insight into these relationships could assist researchers and animal care specialists in understanding calf needs, as well as the potential to utilize breath hold capacity as a non-invasive indicator of animal health. The results of this study indicated that several factors contributed significantly to longer breath hold durations, including: the sex of the calf (i.e. females), age (i.e. calves 10 months of age), parity (i.e. levels of 4), temperature (i.e. ranging from 70 - 80°F), and certain mother-calf configurations (i.e. beside and echelon positions). This suggests that calves with at later stages of development, as well as those with more experienced mothers in energetically efficient positions and those exposed to thermoneutral water can maintain longer periods of apnea. Additionally, calves swimming alone exhibited significantly lower breath holds, most likely due to the lack of energetic benefits provided by the mother in close physical contexts. Although proximity and the health of calves was not found to significantly impact breath hold capacity, further work is needed in these areas to establish whether breath hold duration can be utilized as an indicator of health in bottlenose dolphins.
Tuley, Melinda, "The Influence of sex,sociality,parity, and temperature on the respiratory development of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) calves" (2017). Internship Reports (Restricted). 42.
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