Oxygen transport and cardiovascular responses in skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) exposed to acute hypoxia

J Comp Physiol B. 1992;162(2):131-43. doi: 10.1007/BF00398338.


Responses to acute hypoxia were measured in skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) (approximately 1-3 kg body weight). Fish were prevented from making swimming movements by a spinal injection of lidocaine and were placed in front of a seawater delivery pipe to provide ram ventilation of the gills. Fish could set their own ventilation volumes by adjusting mouth gape. Heart rate, dorsal and ventral aortic blood pressures, and cardiac output were continuously monitored during normoxia (inhalant water (PO2 greater than 150 mmHg) and three levels of hypoxia (inhalant water PO2 approximately 130, 90, and 50 mmHg). Water and blood samples were taken for oxygen measurements in fluids afferent and efferent to the gills. From these data, various measures of the effectiveness of oxygen transfer, and branchial and systemic vascular resistance were calculated. Despite high ventilation volumes (4-7 l.min-1.kg-1), tunas extract approximately 50% of the oxygen from the inhalant water, in part because high cardiac outputs (115-132 ml.min-1.kg-1) result in ventilation/perfusion conductance ratios (0.75-1.1) close to the theoretically ideal value of 1.0. Therefore, tunas have oxygen transfer factors (ml O2.min-1.mmHg-1.kg-1) that are 10-50 times greater than those of other fishes. The efficiency of oxygen transfer from water in tunas (approximately 65%) matches that measured in teleosts with ventilation volumes an order of magnitude lower. The high oxygen transfer factors of tunas are made possible, in part, by a large gill surface area; however, this appears to carry a considerable osmoregulatory cost as the metabolic rate of gills may account for up 70% of the total metabolism in spinally blocked (i.e., non-swimming) fish. During hypoxia, skipjack and yellowfin tunas show a decrease in heart rate and increase in ventilation volume, as do other teleosts. However, in tunas hypoxic bradycardia is not accompanied by equivalent increases in stroke volume, and cardiac output falls as HR decreases. In both tuna species, oxygen consumption eventually must be maintained by drawing on substantial venous oxygen reserves. This occurs at a higher inhalant water PO2 (between 130 and 90 mmHg) in skipjack tuna than in yellowfin tuna (between 90 and 50 mmHg). The need to draw on venous oxygen reserves would make it difficult to meet the oxygen demand of increasing swimming speed, which is a common response to hypoxia in both species.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Cardiac Output / drug effects
  • Cardiac Output / physiology
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena*
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Lidocaine / pharmacology
  • Oxygen / pharmacokinetics*
  • Tuna / physiology*
  • Vascular Resistance / drug effects
  • Vascular Resistance / physiology
  • Ventilation-Perfusion Ratio / drug effects
  • Ventilation-Perfusion Ratio / physiology


  • Lidocaine
  • Oxygen