The immune response and diving: conservation considerations for belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) in a changing Arctic environment

  • Laura A. Thompson Research Department, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT, USA
  • Tracy A. Romano Research Department, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT, USA
Keywords: Dive physiology, decompression sickness, marine mammal, cetacean, immunity, health


Diving is a critical behaviour of marine mammals, including belugas, which dive to forage and travel under Arctic sea ice. While the limitations of dive behaviour and physiological dive adaptations have been the focus of several studies, cellular adaptations, particularly those of the immune system, have been little considered. However, diving itself presents several challenges that can impact immune responses, leading to disease or injury. As beluga dive their behaviour changes in response to human activity or environmental shifts. It is necessary to better understand how the beluga’s immune system functions during diving. This review provides a brief overview of what is known about beluga’s diving behaviour and physiology and discusses the first efforts to understand the link between diving and health via immune function in belugas. This new area of research is an important consideration regarding potential sub-lethal impacts of a rapidly changing Arctic environment on beluga’s diving behaviour, health and disease susceptibility.


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How to Cite
Thompson L. A., & Romano T. A. (2021). The immune response and diving: conservation considerations for belugas (<em>Delphinapterus leucas</em&gt;) in a changing Arctic environment. Polar Research, 40(S1).