Elephant seals fast completely from food and water for 1–3 months during terrestrial breeding. Temporal countercurrent heat exchange in the nasal passage reduces expired air temperature (Te) below body temperature (Tb). At a mean ambient temperature of 13.7 degrees C, Te is 20.9 degrees C. This results in the recovery of 71.5% of the water added to inspired air. The amount of cooling of the expired air (Tb - Te) and the percentage of water recovery varies inversely with ambient temperature. Total nasal surface area available for heat and water exchange, located in the highly convoluted nasal turbinates, is estimated to be 720 cm2 in weaned pups and 3140 cm2 in an adult male. Nasal temporal countercurrent heat exchange reduces total water loss sufficiently to allow maintenance of water balance using metabolic water production alone.
The contribution of nasal countercurrent heat exchange to water balance in the northern elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
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A. C. Huntley, D. P. Costa, R. D. Rubin; The contribution of nasal countercurrent heat exchange to water balance in the northern elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris. J Exp Biol 1 November 1984; 113 (1): 447–454. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.113.1.447
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