2005 Volume 67 Issue 5 Pages 473-479
The terminal airways and microvasculature of five adult Baird's beaked whales (Berardius bairdii) lungs have been examined by means of light and scanning electron microscopy of corrosion casts. The respiratory system of the Baird's beaked whale has various anatomical features which allow them to attain great depths and remain submerged for long periods. The whale lung has components including hyaline cartilage and smooth muscle throughout, reaching as far as the peripheral bronchi, sphincters surrounding the terminal bronchioles, the thick alveolar septa with a connective tissue core and a bi-layer capillary bed, and a distinctive venous plexus of the pulmonary veins. The well-developed venous plexuses of the pulmonary vein are found in the interlobular connective tissue, and around the airways and pulmonary arteries with close apposition. The hyaline cartilage throughout the airways may increase the effective dead air space that accommodates most of the air forced from the collapsed alveoli during a dive. The sphincter might serve as a cock for regulating buoyancy and for trapping air in the alveoli to prevent their complete collapse and a sucking in of alveolar tissue as the dive becomes deeper. The venous plexuses might be for pooling the large volume of blood in the lung to conserve oxygen for deep and prolonged diving.