Quiz: Can a sloth or dolphin hold its breath for longer?

Who will come up top in this fiendish quiz?
15 May 2018

Interview with 

Kate Feller, Diana Alexander, Jason Head and Matt Bothwell, Cambridge University


Chris Smith gave the panel a little quiz. Team 1 is Matt Bothwell and Jason Head versus Team 2, Kate Feller and Diana Alexander...

Chris - So team 1:  What drug takes the longest to leave the blood, cannabis or alcohol?

You may confer of course.

Matt - I would guess Cannabis.

Jason - I would also guess Cannabis.

[CORRECT sound effect]

Chris - The answer is Cannabis. Cannabis is detectable in the bloodstream for over 300 hours, while alcohol is gone after around 12. However both remain detectable in the hair for around 90 days.

Team 2: This is Kate and Diana.

The longest to degrade in landfill? Rubber Wellington boots or nylon poncho?

Kate - Mmm, rubber boots or nylon poncho? I would say the nylon poncho.

Diana - Yeah, yeah. I would as well.

Kate - Rubber theoretically is kind of natural.

Chris - You’re going for the nylon poncho?

[INCORRECT sound effect]

The rubber boots should take between 50-80 years, while nylon should take around 30-40 years.

Back to team 1, here’s a tough one. What’s going be longer, a barnacle’s penis or the sperm of a fly?

Matt - I remember being told in secondary school that barnacle’s have incredibly long penises and that’s stuck with me for some reason.

Jason - I’m also going to go with the barnacle’s penis.

[INCORRECT sound effect]

Chris - You are being nasty. Kate’s going “yes,yes, yes”. Did you know the answer to that?

Kate - I knew that both were extremely long.

Chris - It will surprise you, I did know the answer to this one because drosophila - Fruit flies have a  sperm can be 6cm (only 3mm themselves – equivalent of human having sperm as long as three London busses). Barnacles, for their size, have the largest penis to body ratio, but as they’re extremely small to begin with, an average size is just under a cm.

Chris - Team 2. This is back to Kate and Diana.

What goes the longest without sleep? Walruses or killer whales?

That’s a marine one for you. You should be able to get that.

Kate - Most marine mammals do a really cool thing where they put half their brain to sleep but they’re still technically kind of awake.

Diane - I feel like killer whales.

Kate - I think the whale.

[CORRECT sound effect]

Chris - So we’re level pegging now.

Killer whales! Walrus have been observed staying active for 84 hours without getting any of the usual sleep deprivation problems. But killer whales are well known to be able to go into a semi- sleep, so they can keep swimming, AND, when they’re born, calves and their mothers go for weeks without even this much! The longest a human has stayed awake is around 11 days, but after 3 or 4 severe cognitive problems start to manifest.

Randy Gardner set that record. I think he probably did feel pretty rough but he did perform quite well. He did a press conference at the end of it and they say he answered the questions rather well. But the then slept for about 14 hours the first day and about 10 hours the next day. He did do sort of sleep catch up. You do get symptoms though, not to be advised!

Chris - Team 1 - What can hold its breath for longest? Dolphins or sloths?

Jason - I feel like this is a trick question.

Matt - I feel like the obvious answer is dolphins which makes me want to say sloths.

Jason - I could be persnickety and ask for a species level distinction on the dolphins, but I’m going to fall for trick and I’m going to say dolphins myself.

Chris - What do you think Matt, are you dolphin?

Matt - Yeah. I’ll say the simple answer and say dolphins.

[INCORRECT sound effect]

Chris - Amazingly, sloths can hold their breath for over 20 minutes – some have even reported up to 40, by slowing their heart rate and they’re really good swimmers I was amazed to learn. Dolphins on the other hand can usually only manage around 10 minutes underwater. So the sloths have it.

Chris - Look - you're in with a chance here Team 2.

Which journey would take the longest? From Saturn to the moon Titan, or from centre of the Sun to its surface?

Kate - Where’s my coin. I need to flip it.

Diane - I feel like Sun to surface.

Kate - Yeah, sure. Why not. It’s pretty big.

[INCORRECT sound effect]

Chris - It would be take longer to get to Titan from Saturn than it would to escape the Sun, ignoring the effects of gravity and being burnt into oblivion in the centre of the Sun. Saturn to Titan is over a million kilometres, and the Sun’s radius is just under 700 000.

So you didn’t quite clinch it. So you'll have to leave with your reputation in tatters I’m afraid.

Kate - Yeah. Not my reputation in tact of always losing.

Chris - Yeah that’s true. You’re consistent if  nothing else.



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