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  • Muscle Myoglobin Content and Acid Buffering Capacity of Cetaceans from the Pacific Northwest to Assess Dive Capacity and the Development of Diving Capabilities


Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Conservation Biology CB - Ecosystem Science


PNW cetacean muscle biochem
Muscle Myoglobin Content and Acid Buffering Capacity of Cetaceans from the Pacific Northwest to Assess Dive Capacity and the Development of Diving Capabilities
This project assesses the development of two important skeletal muscle adaptations for diving (enhanced myoglobin content and acid buffering capacities) in a range of cetaceans from the Pacific Northwest in order to understand constraints on diving capacities (primarily dive duration) with development. Myoglobin is an important oxygen store for supporting aerobic diving, while enhanced buffering capacity could support anaerobic metabolism during apnea. Yet little is known about the post-natal development of muscle biochemistry in cetaceans.

To assess the development of these important adaptations in cetaceans, muscle myoglobin content and buffering capacity due to non-bicarbonate buffers were measured in the longissimus dorsi of harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), killer whale (Orcinus orca), and Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli).

Dawn Noren is the principal investigator from NWFSC. Projects on individual species within this larger project include different collaborators. For the project on harbor porpoise (completed), Shawn Noren (UCSC) and Joe Gaydos (SeaDoc Society) are external collaborators. Dawn Noren is responsible for project oversight, Shawn Noren trained Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) staff on laboratory procedures for sample analysis and Joe Gaydos collected samples. The specific work includes experimental design, data collection, data analysis, and writing for submission to peer-reviewed journals. These projects are ongoing until sufficient samples are collected for sound statistical analysis. This research addresses some data gaps associated with dive capacities and potential limitations in habitat use by local cetaceans.

Research Themes

Ecosystem approach to improve management of marine resources
The California Current Large Marine Ecosystem, Puget Sound and the Columbia River Basin are home to a wide range of freshwater and marine resources that provide a wealth of ecosystem goods and services. Ensuring the resiliency and productivity of the California Current and Pacific Northwest ecosystems requires an integrated understanding of their structure, function, and vulnerability to increased human population growth in coastal communities and competing uses of coastal waterways and oceans. The NWFSC‘s approach to understanding these large ecosystems integrates studies across ecosystems (terrestrial, freshwater, and marine) and scientific disciplines to inform resource managers responsible for conserving marine resources.

Research Foci

Characterize ecological interactions (e.g. predation, competition, parasitism, disease, etc.) within and among species
Predator-prey interactions, inter- and intra-specific competition, and parasites and pathogens influence the survival, growth, and reproductive success of anadromous and marine fishes, marine mammals and other marine organisms. Moreover, anthropogenic stressors, such as pollution and fishing, can influence these interactions. Because of the complex nature of these interactions, addressing questions about ecological interactions will require novel field and laboratory studies and analyses. This includes ecosystem models, use of innovative technologies (e.g., otolith microchemistry and stable isotopes), integration of sample collection efforts with those of the Ocean Observing System entities on the west coast, and quantifying interactions among environmental stressors, species behavior and ecosystem processes.


Dall's porpoise
Phocoenoides dalli
acid buffering
chemical ability of a tissue to cope with acid by-products, such as lactic acid produced during anaerobic metabolism
diving physiology
physiological adaptations facilitating increased dive capacities
harbor porpoise
Phocoena phocoena
killer whale
focal species
oxygen carrier in mammalian muscle


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


Species Orcinus orca
grampus, killer whale, killer-trasher, orca
Species Phocoena phocoena
bay porpoise, bucker, common porpoise, harbor porpoise, harbour porpoise, herring hog, hogfish
Species Phocoenoides dalli
Dall porpoise, Dall's porpoise, True's porpoise


Dawn Noren Adams
Principal Investigator