However, no one had been able to find a distinct gait change – such as a change in stride length or frequency – associated with the latter stages of pregnancy.
Intrigued by the ways that newborn dolphins learn to swim after birth, Shawn Noren from the Institute of Marine Science, University of California Santa Cruz, realised that she had the perfect opportunity to find out how pregnancy affects female dolphins.
Joining a pod of dolphins at Dolphin Quest, Hawaii, just before two of the females gave birth, Noren analysed the impact of pregnancy on the animals' streamlined shape and mobility. She publishes her discovery that pregnant dolphins are significantly disadvantaged by their burden and adopt a new swimming style (gait) in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.
'The pregnant females had huge protrusions where the fetus was sitting towards the back end of the body', says Noren, who donned SCUBA gear and spent a large portion of the final fortnight of the dolphins' pregnancies filming under water as they swam parallel to her camera between their trainers. Noren also filmed the dolphin mothers immediately after their calves were born and at regular intervals until the calves were 2 years old. Comparing the footage before and after delivery, Noren realised that pregnant females were slower. Their top speed was restricted to 3.54 m s, whereas they were able to swim at much higher speeds after giving birth. 'Two to three metres per second is a comfortable speed for most bottlenose dolphins,' says Noren, 'but these pregnant animals did not feel comfortable going beyond that.'
She also measured the animals' girth and calculated their frontal surface area, and realised that the pregnancy had a colossal impact, increasing their frontal surface area by an enormous 51%. And when Noren measured the drag experienced by the animals as they glided through the water, she discovered that it doubled when the mothers were close to delivery.
The pregnant dolphins also had another problem: their increased fat stores in preparation for lactation had also increased their buoyancy. 'The buoyancy issue is going to be problematic when you are going down on a dive to capture prey and they are going to need extra energy to overcome that buoyant force', says Noren. So, pregnancy had a dramatic effect on the dolphin's hydrodynamics, but had it changed their swimming style? Did the pregnant dolphins move with a different gait?
Manually digitising the position of the animals' flukes (tail fins) as they beat up and down, Noren discovered that the pregnant females were unable to sweep their flukes as far as they could after birth. They had reduced the amplitude of their tail beat by 13% and they compensated for the reduced propulsion by beating their flukes faster. The pregnant dolphins had changed gait.
Having found how pregnancy affects soon-to-be dolphin mothers, Noren outlines the additional risks that the females face. Unable to outrun predators, heavily pregnant dolphins are more vulnerable to attack and they may not be able to keep up with the pod if pursued by fishing vessels. Explaining that tuna are still fished using massive nets in the eastern tropical Pacific, Noren says, 'Here is a fast speed event, so it is possible the near term pregnant females are being left behind in the chase. They are reliant on a large pod for protection and cooperative feeding and once the animal is separated it would be hard for it to find the pod again.'
IF REPORTING ON THIS STORY, PLEASE MENTION THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://jeb.biologists.org
REFERENCE: Noren, S. R., Redfern, J. V. and Edwards, E. F. (2011). Pregnancy is a drag: hydrodynamics, kinematics and performance in pre- and post-parturition bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). J. Exp. Biol. 214, 4149-4157.
This article is posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to report on this story. Full attribution is required, and if reporting online a link to jeb.biologists.com is also required. The story posted here is COPYRIGHTED. Therefore advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full. PLEASE CONTACT email@example.com
Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds
26.05.2017 | Cornell University
How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system
26.05.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy