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'Sea Nomads' Are First Known Humans Genetically Adapted to Diving claims:

But a group of people called the Bajau takes free diving to the extreme, staying underwater for as long as 13 minutes at depths of around 200 feet.

I've read/heard this claim repeated many times, without substantiation.

However, Wikipedia states the static apnea record without using pure oxygen is below 12 minutes.

Can the Bajau people stay underwater for as long as 13 minutes?

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  • 3
    The link in the National Geographic story refers to various research and studies and the Bajau people if you care to follow it up. Jun 30 at 13:51
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    @WeatherVane thanks I didn't see any mention of their maximum diving time Jun 30 at 13:54
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    This npr article only cites a grad student who was told by someone that he could do that (13 min) in his youth. In other words it's like the story of the fish that gets bigger every time the story was told. (Or the typical tale of a dude making stuff up to impress the woman he's talking to) npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/04/24/604059598/…
    – eps
    Jul 1 at 16:22
  • If you want to substantiate a claim like this, you search the medical/physiology literature, not YouTube channels like "Wonders of the World" who have a huge incentive to repeat unsubstantiated claims (clicks! views!) made by other sources, and zero incentive to investigate or debunk them. And a reverse-search for that channel's boilerplate text "For copyright matters please contact us at: copymanagerdate@gmail.com" turns up multiple "unbelievable-stories" channels.
    – smci
    Jul 3 at 2:02
  • @smci I should've done longer studies instead of graduating from the YouTube academy! Jul 3 at 2:05

1 Answer 1

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I will say 'no'.

According to the study Underwater working times in two groups of traditional apnea divers in Asia: The Ama and the Bajau, Bajau divers dive for 28 seconds with an standard deviation of 9 seconds.

They have a beneficial genetic mutations which give them a larger spleen and hence more hemoglobin, allowing them to spend more time in total underwater than on the surface (so 28 seconds underwater, and only 18 seconds on the surface, repeated over the length of a full day).

Physiological and Genetic Adaptations to Diving in Sea Nomads

This article says they can spend several minutes underwater, with three minutes being filmed:

How Asia's Super Divers Evolved for a Life At Sea

There does not seem to be evidence that the sort of extreme ultra-breath-holding is something that they would even try to do, because their goal is to take things from the sea, not conserve breath at all costs in an effort to break records. By spending long periods of the day under water they can earn more money than people who are incapable of such feats, but nothing suggests that they would be doing anything other than retrieving things, bringing them to the surface, and then repeating the process, as many times as possible.

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  • "They have a beneficial genetic mutations" What's the evidence for this? Is it really a genetic mutation, or are their bodies adapting to what could be called "training"?
    – fredsbend
    Jul 1 at 22:40
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    Cell.com seems the relevant source here, but it would be great if you can summarize the conclusion and methods. It's a lot to read through for the uninitiated.
    – fredsbend
    Jul 1 at 22:45
  • from the abstract of the article in Cell "Using a comparative genomic study, we show that natural selection on genetic variants in the PDE10A gene have increased spleen size in the Bajau, providing them with a larger reservoir of oxygenated red blood cells. We also find evidence of strong selection specific to the Bajau on BDKRB2, a gene affecting the human diving reflex. Thus, the Bajau, and possibly other diving populations, provide a new opportunity to study human adaptation to hypoxia tolerance." sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867418303866 Jul 15 at 2:02

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