How Long Can Whales Hold Their Breath (And Why)?

Exact Answer: 60 Mins

Whales, contrary to popular belief, are mammals, not fish. This has a number of ramifications that set them apart from their aquatic counterparts. To begin with, whales are warm-blooded animals that give live birth to their young and feed them milk.

The biggest difference between whales and other fish is that whales lack gills, which means they can’t breathe oxygen dissolved in water. They don’t have lungs, so they have to come to the surface every time they need to breathe.

Even though whales are creatures that breathe air, they eat and sleep underwater.

How Long Can Whales Hold Their Breath?

Type Of WhalesDuration Of Holding Breath
Sperm WhalesUp to 90 Minutes
Killer WhalesUp to 15 Minutes

A Cuvier’s Beaked Whale now holds the benchmark for the longest drive, clocking in at 138 minutes. This occurred in 2014, and it set a new record for diving mammals. Holding your breath while watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the equivalent of that. This leads them to a depth of around 2000 metres below the surface of the ocean.

Sperm whales are well-known for being deep-diving whales, capable of reaching depths of over 1000 metres in search of gigantic squid prey. They can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes. The whales that we witness in our waters don’t hold their breath for nearly as long.

Humpback whales have indeed been observed to hold their breath for up to an hour, but this isn’t something we see very often. On average, we discover on our tours that a Humpback would dive for 4-7 minutes, then surface for 6-8 breaths and resume the process.

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Killer whales can’t hold their breath for nearly as long as humans. Their greatest duration is roughly 15 minutes, although we see them at least once every minute when going swiftly or every 3-5 minutes when travelling.

Why Can Whales Hold Their Breath For That Long?

They have an extremely effective respiratory system, to begin with. Whales exhale first, clearing their lungs of any stale air before inhaling a fresh, clean breath. Humans, on the other hand, inhale first and expel second, leaving a lot of stale air in our lungs.

To put things in perspective, people only take 5% of the oxygen in a single breath. A whale, on the other hand, can take up to 90% of the oxygen in each breath. This means that a whale takes in considerably more oxygen in a single breath than a human does.

The oxygen is swiftly absorbed and attached to the high levels of haemoglobin present in the blood, which whales have twice as much of as humans, as well as the myoglobin located in muscles, which whales have 30 per cent more of than humans.

The mammals then evacuate 90% of the air in their lungs just before diving. This makes driving easier by reducing their buoyancy. The animal does not need to swim down because it is less buoyant and therefore more “heavy.” As a result of the sinking, less movement occurs, resulting in decreased oxygen use.

Additionally, plunging mammals can shift blood flow from their extremities to the brain, heart, and muscles to conserve oxygen. They also stop digestion in the smaller organs, such as the kidneys and liver.

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Finally, their heart rate drops. When diving, most mammals, including humans, can accomplish this. The slowing among marine mammals, on the other hand, can be considerable.

Conclusion

The ocean is home to a huge variety of species, both large and little, as well as microscopic creatures! Whales are the ocean’s giants in some cases. In reality, the Blue Whale is the world’s largest mammal. The ocean is home to a wide range of air-breathing mammals, which most people identify with fish and other non-mammalian species.

Whales, like other marine mammals, have incredible adaptations and behaviours that allow them to flourish in the harsh ocean environment, with some whales able to stay underwater for nearly four hours at a time.

References

  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27859477
  2. https://journals.biologists.com/jeb/article-abstract/200/24/3091/7765
  3. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00295703
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