The South Georgian shag (Phalacrocorax georgianus) shows a remarkable diving ability comparable to that of penguins, yet nothing is known of the physiology of these birds. In this study, heart rates and abdominal temperatures were recorded continuously in four free-ranging South Georgian shags using an implanted data-logger. A time­depth recorder was also attached to the back of the implanted birds to record their diving behaviour. The diving behaviour of the birds was essentially similar to that reported in other studies, with maximum dive durations for individual birds ranging between 140 and 287 s, and maximum depths between 35 and 101 m. The birds, while at the nest, had a heart rate of 104.0±13.1 beats min-1 (mean ± s.e.m.) and an abdominal temperature of 39.1±0.2 °C. During flights of 221±29 s, heart rate and abdominal temperature rose to 309.5±18.0 beats min-1 and 40.1±0.3 °C, respectively. The mean heart rate during diving, at 103.7±13.7 beats min-1, was not significantly different from the resting values, but the minimum heart rate during a dive was significantly lower at 64.8±5.8 beats min-1. The minimum heart rate during a dive was negatively correlated with both dive duration and dive depth. Abdominal temperature fell progressively during a diving bout, with a mean temperature at the end of a bout of 35.1±1.7 °C. The minimum heart rate during diving is at a sub-resting level, which suggests that the South Georgian shag responds to submersion with the 'classic' dive response of bradycardia and the associated peripheral vasoconstriction and utilisation of anaerobic metabolism. However, the reduction in abdominal temperature may reflect a reduction in the overall metabolic rate of the animal such that the bird can remain aerobic while submerged.
Heart rates and abdominal temperatures of free-ranging South Georgian shags, Phalacrocorax georgianus
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R M Bevan, I L Boyd, P J Butler, K Reid, A J Woakes, J P Croxall; Heart rates and abdominal temperatures of free-ranging South Georgian shags, Phalacrocorax georgianus. J Exp Biol 1 February 1997; 200 (4): 661–675. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.200.4.661
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