The Emperor Penguin

Emperor penguins dive deeper than any other animal.  Most of their dives are between 100 and 200 m deep, but they can reach an astonishing depth of 550 - 560 m.  The penguin can remain submerged at such depths for around 15 - 18 minutes.  

The barometric pressure at such depths is extremely high. In a human, such pressures would restrict oxygen supplies to the brain and other organs, since the lungs' volume would be highly reduced. Also, such pressures would force nitrogen to dissolve in the blood, inducing a fatal situation.  So, how does the emperor penguin survive such a situation?

The emperor penguin has become adapted in four ways:
  1. It has an unusually structured  haemoglobin that allows it to function at low oxygen levels.
  2. It has an ability to reduce its metabolism, and shut down all but the most essential organs.
  3. It has solid bones to reduce physical damage to body tissue.
  4. It can reduce its heart beat to up to 5 beats per minute, hence conserving oxygen, and reduce the possibility of nitrogen dissolving in the blood.

Adapted from Focus magazine: Issue 226 March 2011