Heterogeneity of myoglobin distribution in the locomotory muscles of five cetacean species. Academic Article uri icon


  • Myoglobin is an important storage site for oxygen in the swimming muscles of diving marine mammals. However, little is known about its distribution within muscles since previous studies have relied on single samples. The goal of this study was to determine the distribution of myoglobin within the swimming muscles of five species of cetacean: dusky dolphin, false killer whale, striped dolphin, humpbacked dolphin and bottlenose dolphin. The entire dorsal (epaxial) and ventral (hypaxial) swimming muscles were removed from each animal and weighed. Transverse sections were taken from the cranial, middle and caudal regions of each muscle and sampled along a circular grid with a minimum of 30 sites per section. Spectrophotometric analysis was used to measure the myoglobin concentration of each sample. Contour maps of myoglobin concentration were made for each transverse section. Myoglobin concentration was found to be non-uniformly distributed within the muscle. The interior of the muscle lying closest to the vertebrae showed a significantly higher (11 %) mean myoglobin concentration than the exterior of the muscle for all five species. In the epaxial muscles, the mean myoglobin concentration was significantly higher in the caudal region closest to the flukes. The two deep-water species (false killer whale and striped dolphin) had significantly higher myoglobin concentrations than the three species (dusky, humpbacked and bottlenose dolphins) that occur in shallow, coastal waters. These results show that myoglobin is not homogeneously distributed in the locomotory muscle of cetaceans and that levels may be highest in those areas that produce greater force and consume more oxygen during aerobic swimming. Enhancing oxygen stores in those areas of the muscle that work the hardest would theoretically lengthen the aerobic dive limit of the animal during submerged swimming.

published proceedings

  • J Exp Biol

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Polasek, L. K., & Davis, R. W.

citation count

  • 34

complete list of authors

  • Polasek, LK||Davis, RW

publication date

  • January 2001