It has been known for some time now that tribes that live at high altitudes have evolved an ability to better deal with hypoxia and are able to hold their breath for longer and dive deeper.
People from one such tribe, the Bajau in Indonesia (known as “Sea Nomads”), for over 1,000 years have spent most of their lives on water, relying on the sea for their food, and have evolved some astounding freediving abilities. They can dive to depths of up to 70m/230ft and hold their breaths for an astounding amount of time. One of the Bajou reportedly has held his breath for 13 minutes.
The secret to their extreme abilities is evolutionary; ultrasounds have confirmed that the Bajou have evolved to a spleen that is 50 percent larger than other humans, even those who live on land nearby. The spleen plays a crucial role in mammals’ ability to dive, with research showing that most mammals with great diving abilities have a proportionally larger spleen.
Researchers believe these findings can lead to developments in the way we treat hypoxia, as well as a better understanding of how several genes work.
Interestingly for the sport of freediving, could we see the day when the Bajau dominate the sport, in the same way that Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes dominate middles and long distance running?
For more info, check out this recent article from The Independent.