The Bajau Tribe: Meet The People With Superpowers To Stay Underwater Longer

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Anyone here who knows how to swim? If you do, I bet you’ve already tried holding your breath for as long as possible. Maybe even guess how deep you can go underwater.

Generally, most people can hold their breath underwater for somewhere between 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes. 

But did you know that a group of people can stay underwater for as long as 13 minutes 200 feet below the ocean? 

Meet the Bajau people.

The Bajau tribe, also called the “sea nomads or sea gypsies,” live on small houseboats floating in the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. 

For thousands of years, the Bajau people have traveled on boats from place to place around the sea, never settling on one location. This nomadic lifestyle is where they gained their nicknames. 

They often hunt for fish, octopus, and other seafood or collect shellfish from the sea floor. Moreover, most of their activities are carried out on their boats. However, they would go ashore occasionally, only to sell their catch to make a living.

The Bajau people often spend five to eight hours a day diving. This means they typically spend about 60% of their time underwater. 

They are also famous for their extraordinary freediving ability, where they can dive underwater without any breathing device. As mentioned, the Bajau can stay underwater for as long as 13 minutes to depths of more than 230 feet.

Imagine that! They can hold their breath longer than humans.

Unlike divers with wet suits, flippers, or scuba gear, they only use goggles, a wooden mask, and a spear they made when diving. They can also walk on the seafloor, moving slowly as if dancing underwater.

So what’s their secret that gives them this superpower?

New research suggests Bajau developed larger spleens by a DNA mutation to support long, frequent dives. This makes them the first humans genetically adapted to diving and life in the sea.

The researchers discovered this by scanning the bodies of 59 locals from two different Bajau villages: the divers and non-divers. Then, they compared the results from Bajau with the Saluan, or non-divers who traditionally lead a farming lifestyle.

They found the Bajau had spleens that were 50% larger than that of a Saluan individual.

Amazing, right?

Now, you might wonder how a spleen could help the Bajau breathe longer underwater and as stronger divers.

The spleen is known to be the reservoir of oxygen-rich red blood cells. When a person goes diving, this organ contracts and releases these oxygenated red blood cells into the bloodstream. This allows the person to hold their breath longer underwater.

Think of the spleen as a biological scuba tank.

Since the Bajau people have larger spleens, they have a higher supply of red blood cells and can stay underwater longer. Based on recent studies, it may also be an example of natural evolution in humans that happened over thousands of years to create genetic changes to have a bigger spleen in their local population.

However, researchers state that more evidence is needed. They also need to measure different populations with larger participants to confirm the size difference in future studies. 

Unfortunately, the lifestyle of the Bajau people is increasingly under threat as more coral reefs are being destroyed due to climate change and people. This makes their livelihood of catching fish harder since the fish population has greatly decreased.

Just a fun fact: According to folklore, a Bajau boy fell asleep in the water because he was having so much fun while diving.

What are your thoughts about this? Do you know other fun facts about the Bajau tribe? Please comment below with your answers.

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