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February 16, 2019

HOW DEEP IT GOES: Study confirms Cuvier’s beaked whale is world’s deepest-diving mammal.

Because the elusive whales spend so little time at the surface and rarely venture close to shore, studying their behavior is difficult. Researchers were able to tag several Cuvier’s beaked whale off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. The satellite tags recorded 3,242 hours of behavioral data from 5,926 dives.

“They typically only spend about two minutes at the surface between dives,” Jeanne Shearer, a doctoral student in ecology at Duke University, said in a news release. “It’s amazing that they can dive to such depths, withstand the pressure, and be down there that long, with such brief recovery times.”

Scientists have previously tracked the dives of Cuvier’s beaked whales in the Pacific, Mediterranean and Caribbean, but studies suggest beaked whale populations exhibit distinct diving patterns.

The new data showed the whales’ deepest dives extend more than 4,500 feet beneath the ocean surface. Deep dives can last two to three hours. The whales dive continuously, with deep dives followed by a few shorter dives, averaging 1,000 feet.

“Cuvier’s beaked whales are only half the size of the sperm whale,” Shearer said. “Their dives push the limits of mammalian physiology, but we still don’t know how they’re able to behave this way.”

By contrast, the deepest breath-hold dive by a human is around 700 feet — only about 1/6 as deep, but still pretty impressive considering, you know, that we’re not whales.