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Before diving underwater, seals can choose to reduce the blood flow in their blubber to conserve oxygen and energy — controlling a reflex once thought autonomous.
Researchers led by a Scottish university developed a Fitbit-style, non-invasive device to measure changes in seals' blood volume and oxygen levels as they dove.
Seals - Control - Reflex - Bodies - Dives
They found that seals have conscious control of their dive reflex, pre-tuning their bodies both before dives and subsequent surfacing.
Marine mammals that dive underwater are hard to study, leaving much uncertain about the biological processes that support their aquatic lifestyles — such as the dive reflex.
Kinds - Investigations - Team - Researchers - University
To make these kinds of investigations easier, a team of researchers led from the University of St Andrews in Scotland developed a piece of wearable tech that can measure a seal's blood volume and oxygenation levels.
Attaching the device to harbour seals, the researchers found that the blood vessels near the seals' skins began to contract before they dove — typically around 15 seconds in advance, but sometimes as far as 45 seconds beforehand.
Control - Author - Chris - McKnight - New
That means it must be under conscious control, lead author Chris McKnight explained to the New Scientist.
'There’s no other stimulus,' he said.
Evidence - Seals - Control - Reflexes - Mammals
Further evidence for the seals having conscious control of their dive reflexes came as the mammals returned to the surface of the water.
The monitoring devices revealed that the seals also restored normal blood flow back to their blubber seconds before they began to surface.
Researchers - Seals - Water - Surface - Blood
Researchers also found that while feeding, seals do not bother to stay at the water's surface for long enough to completely restore normal blood oxygen levels.
Nearly every mammal has...
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