Elephant Seals—How Long Can You Hold Your Breath?

NOAA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

on September 1, 2019

Twenty-four minutes—that’s the longest a human has held his breath underwater. And it’s pretty impressive until you learn that elephant seals can stay submerged for up to two hours and dive up to 5,000 feet. Their secret? Scientists think it might be the high levels of carbon monoxide in their blood—about 10 times the amount found in humans.

We normally think of this gas as toxic because it attaches to red blood cells, slowing oxygen flow and harming tissues and organs. But in the case of deep dives, carbon monoxide extends the seal’s oxygen supply by up to 16% without injuries. Researchers believe the gas protects the organs by slowing down their metabolism until the seal can breathe again.

This discovery is encouraging new medical research into ways that carbon monoxide can prevent tissue damage when blood flow is interrupted during organ transplants, heart attacks, and strokes. This is just another way to dive deeper into the Creator’s unfathomable provision.

Article was taken from Answers magazine, March–April, 2019, 40.