Cuvier’s beaked whale the deepest diving animal
Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
THE WORLD RECORD for the deepest and longest dive performed by any mammal has been smashed by a Cuvier’s beaked whale off the coast of southern California.
Shaped like a cigar with a short beak and body length of up to 7m, Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) have tiny flippers and collapsible lungs to help them plunge quickly and safely into the depths of the ocean in search of food.
They’re very broadly distributed, found in temperate and tropical waters all over the world, including off the coast of southern Australia, but they’re also skittish and shy, and their preference for deep-sea habitats makes them notoriously difficult to study.
But just last week a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California announced they had managed to record over 3000 hours of diving activity by Cuvier’s beaked whales, and what they found was pretty extraordinary.
Cuvier’s beaked whale records deepest dive
The team attached tracking tags to eight Cuvier’s beaked whales caught just off San Nicholas Island in southern California and followed them for several months.
During this time, the whales would usually dive to about 1400m below the surface, but one individual decided to keep going, all the way to a depth of 2,992m.
This not only exceeded the previous deep-diving record for the species by almost 2km, it also smashed the world record, held by a southern elephant seal that clocked a 2388m-dive in 2010.
This exceptional individual also managed to stay down there for 138 minutes, which secured it a second record for the longest dive ever performed by a mammal.
Other than gaining an unprecedented insight into the species’ remarkable diving abilities, this study is part of an ongoing investigation into how military sonar operations in the area could be affecting the whales.
The team is currently trying to identify incidents of sonar use that occurred while they were recording the whales to determine if and how this acoustic disturbance is having an impact on these very special animals.