Respiratory proteins are responsible for transport and storage of oxygen. It is well established that specific requirements for oxygen during vertebrate ontogeny cause switches of hemoglobin chain expression. Here, we characterize the developmental profiles of zebrafish (Danio rerio) globins by means of quantitative real-time reverse transcription PCR. The total mRNA levels of the hemoglobin chains, including a newly identified embryonic α-chain, as well as myoglobin, neuroglobin, cytoglobin 1 and 2, and globin X were estimated. mRNAs of all globins were detectable in unfertilized eggs, suggesting maternal storage. Embryonic α- and β-hemoglobin mRNA peaked at hatching and the switch to adult hemoglobin expression occurred 16 dpf. Enhanced myoglobin mRNA levels were detected ~31 h post-fertilization (hpf), coinciding with the heart and the muscle development, while neuroglobin mRNA expression pattern correlates with the formation of the nervous system. Amounts of myoglobin and neuroglobin mRNA were similar within an order of magnitude throughout the ontogeny, tentatively supporting a respiratory role of neuroglobin. Cytoglobin 2 mRNA levels increased gradually, whereas cytoglobin 1 mRNA levels increased strongly after ~31 hpf, which is in agreement with a function in cell proliferation. Globin X mRNA level was highest in oocytes, but low in later stages. Together, these data suggest a specific role for each globin, which are also associated with certain events in fish development.