Snorkeling Elephants and an Introduction

This is my first blog, so bear with me. I asked a friend of mine how I should begin it, and he said, "tell them why they should care about what you will write about." Fair enough.

I teach at a major university in the west. My area of specialty is the comparative physiology of glucose and fatty acid regulation. I specialize in this area because diabetes is such a prevalent concern in the United States. I accepted the invitation to blog on comparative physiology in the hopes that the discussion about this branch of science could grow broader and deeper via the blogosphere. For others thirsting for more knowledge about my background, I am married, a Scorpio, and am one of the few people in the US who still does not have a DVD player. It is on my wish list, along with World Peace. I am thinking we will have world peace before I get one. Such is the life of a young academic.

i-caf4b7e96ebe35fbcbeed1565ace77b8-Screen shot 2010-07-30 at 9.03.45 AM.pngBack to the subject at hand. Comparative physiology is a vibrant field of research that was founded by August Krogh (1874-1949) as he believed that "for many problems there is an animal on which it can be most conveniently studied", which is referred to as The August Krogh Principle. Put another way, comparative physiology is the study of natural physiological mechanisms various animals have evolved to successfully adapt to their environment. The podcasts I would like to introduce to you are really neat examples of just some of these unique adaptations.

Snorkeling Elephants
Photo by Stella Bogdanic, courtesy of stock.xchng
Elephant Sounds at

The American Physiological Society has produced many wonderful podcasts on comparative physiology topics in its program called "LifeLines ". The first episode featured Dr. John West, from the University of California San Diego who talked about snorkeling elephants, galloping horses and pigeons. In the first segment, West describes why elephants are the only mammal without a pleural cavity in their lungs. This adaptation allows them to snorkel underwater without damaging their pulmonary capillaries as a result of the high pressure of the water surrounding their bodies. This is a great way to illustrate why humans cannot snorkel at great depths. You can listen to it here.

i-7ffaa81b17c2df12445a42a18cc3a5bc-Screen shot 2010-07-30 at 9.05.22 AM.pngWest demonstrated the pleural membranes in his article on the pachyderm in the journal Physiology. I had no idea that elephants do not have a pleural cavity!

To hear or download the podcast in its entirety, visit


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Glad to see the APS Blog up and running. I am looking for great things from the effort and an opportunity to encourage readers to reflect on the importance of physiology.

By Marty Frank (not verified) on 03 Aug 2010 #permalink

welcome, what a fun field!

Thanks for another wonderful post. Where else could anybody get that kind of info in such a perfect way of writing? I've a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such info.

By Terrano Spirit S3 (not verified) on 16 Apr 2013 #permalink