By Brandon Specktor
When the largest animals on Earth grab a snack, their hearts skip a beat — or sometimes 30.
That’s what a team of marine biologists found after recording a blue whale‘s heartbeat for the first time ever. After suction-cupping a pulse monitor to the back of a blue whale off the California coast, the researchers watched as the gargantuan creature dove and resurfaced nonstop for nearly 9 hours, alternately filling its lungs with air and its belly with schools of tasty fish hundreds of feet below the surface.
During these deep, grub-hunting dives, the whale’s heart rate see-sawed wildly, pumping as many as 34 times per minute at the surface and as few as just two beats per minute at the deepest depths — about 30% to 50% slower than the researchers expected.
According to a new study published yesterday (Nov. 25) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the simple act of catching a bite may push a blue whale’s heart to its physical limits — and that could explain why no creatures larger than blue whales have ever been spotted on Earth.
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