How Long Can a Whale Stay Underwater?

How Long Can a Whale Stay Underwater?

As you may already know, whales are actually mammals – not fish. This has a few implications that make them stand out when compared to their other aquatic neighbors. First, whales are warm-blooded and give live births to their young ones (as opposed to laying eggs) and feed them milk. The most prominent distinction between whales and other fish is that whales don’t have gills, which means they cannot breathe the oxygen dissolved in water. Instead they have lungs which means they have to come to the surface every time they want to breathe air. Want to learn more about whale? You’re in the right place, keep reading on‘s article.

Although whales are mammals and do breathe air, they still obviously eat and sleep underwater. So, this brings up the question: how long can whales hold their breath underwater?

How Long Can A Whale Stay Underwater?

Again, we know that whales do breathe air, so how long can whales stay underwater on one breath? Whales can hold their breath for a very long time, and this ranges species to species. The average whale can hold its breath for about 60 minutes. The Sperm whale can hold its breath longer than the average whale, for about 90 minutes. The whale that can hold its breath the longest, however, is the Curved Beak Whale, who can take long dives underwater for about 138 minutes! Compare this to dolphins who can also hold their breath underwater, but for a much shorter time period, around 3-5 minutes.

How Long Can a Whale Stay Underwater?

How Can Whales Hold Their Breath For So Long?

Why can whale hold their breath for so long? There are a few things that play in whales’ favor when it comes to holding their breath underwater. They have a very efficient respiratory system where their lungs can make the most out of each breath, giving them the ability to stay underwater for hours at a time. For perspective, humans breathe around 12-20 times per minute when resting, but only absorb 5% of the oxygen in a single breath. Compare this to a whale who can absorb as much as 90% of the oxygen in each breath. This means that a whale acquires much more oxygen than a human in a single breath to start with.

Whales’ lungs have the ability to store oxygen in a special protein found in muscles called myoglobin. They also conserve energy underwater by slowing their heart rate and limiting blood supply to only a few organs.

Storing Energy

One of the biggest advantages whales have for holding their breath so long is myoglobin. Myoglobin is a protein present in the muscles of most mammals whose primary job is to bind to oxygen molecules which helps to store excess oxygen. Therefore, when you hold your breath even for a little while, myoglobin helps provide oxygen to your body. Since whales spend all of their time underwater, they have significantly more myoglobin than mammals on land.

Conserving Energy

The other remarkable advantage whales have when holding their breath underwater is their ability to conserve energy. When whales are underwater, they can slow their heart rate and limit supply to only a few organs at a time with no negative impact on their blood pressure. This gives them the ability to be highly efficient with their energy and get the most out of their breath.

How Do Whales Sleep Without Drowning?

If whales are mammals and need to breathe every hour in order to get oxygen, how exactly are they able to sleep?

Unlike humans whose breathing is involuntary while we sleep, whales’ breathing is voluntary. So, in order to sleep, whales (and dolphins) will engage in what is referred to as hemispheric sleep, where they shut down only half of the brain, and close the opposite eye. The other half of the brain that stays awake is at a low level of alertness in order to watch for predators to protect their young or other obstacles in the ocean. The alert half of the brain also helps the whale be conscious of the position of their blowhole to surface of the ocean in order to easily take a breath when it’s time. After usually two hours, whales will reverse the alert half of the brain so the other hemisphere can rest.

Fascinated by Whales?

We are too! If you love whales as much as we do, we invite you to take an epic whale watching cruise with us at Harbor Breeze to see these majestic sea mammals up close and personal as well as other marine life. We have experienced naturalists on board each and every excursion so you can learn exciting facts about whales and their aquatic environment. Call us today for ticket information to book and unforgettable journey the entire family will love.



LOCATION: The marine biome is the biggest biome in the world! It covers about 70% of the earth. It includes five main oceans: the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, and Southern, as well as many smaller Gulfs and Bays. Marine regions are usually very salty! There is about one cup of salt per gallon of water in the ocean. To know more about it you can keep reading on this site

The ocean is divided up into three vertical zones. The top layer is called the euphotic zone and it is the area of the ocean where light can penetrate. The next layer is the disphotic zone. This area is too deep for lots of light to reach. Instead, the light here looks like our twilight on land. The deepest part of the ocean is called the aphotic zone, or deep sea. The water here is awfully cold, completely dark, and low in nutritional content. The deep sea comprises 80% of all the habitats on earth, which makes it the largest habitat on the planet. The deepest point in the ocean, the Mariana Trench is deeper than Mt. Everest is tall! The Mariana Trench is about 36,200 feet (10,000 meters) deep.


WEATHER: The marine biome has a big influence on our terrestrial climate! It provides rain for crops through evaporation, wind to help circulate air, and affects coastal temperatures. The ocean is a big influence on whether the weather may be sunny or cloudy, especially here in Santa Barbara because the ocean is right outside our back door!

The constant motion of the ocean results in currents and waves that may either be warm or cold depending on the weather and temperature of that area. Temperatures in the ocean range from just around freezing at the pole and in the deep waters, to tropical clear waters that are as warm as a bathtub. The average temperature of all oceans is about 39°F (4°C). Heat from the sun warms only the surface of the water. Deep down, oceans everywhere are cold and dark.

PLANTS: Over 1 million species of plants and animals have been discovered in the oceans, and scientists say there may be as many as 9 million species we haven’t found yet. One reason the ocean is very important is because of all the algae. If it weren’t for marine algae we would not be able to breathe!

Through photosynthesis, marine plants and algae provide much of the worlds oxygen supply and take in huge amounts of carbon dioxide. This absorption of carbon dioxide may be a useful tool in reducing the severity of climate change.

One type of marine algae is kelp. Kelp is important because it provides shelter and food for a lot of sea creatures. Kelp is also used by humans for many products, including toothpaste and ice cream. Kelp also serves as a buffer by absorbing energy from waves before the waves hit the shoreline, protecting many of the sandy beaches along the California coast. Another important marine plant is phytoplankton. These are tiny plants that serve as food for many of the ocean creatures from the smallest of fish to large whales. Some scientists estimate that phytoplankton provide the earth with almost half of its oxygen! Marine plants live in the euphotic zone of the ocean because they need energy from the sun for photosynthesis.

ANIMALS: The Earth’s oceans are home to most of the planet’s biodiversity. Here we can find mollusks, fish, whales, crustaceans, bacteria, fungi, sea anemones and many other animals. Animals have to deal with unique living situations in all zones of the ocean. The ocean is a salty place that is often cold. Many animals have special adaptations to handle this difficult environment.

Most marine mammals have blubber to survive in the cold water, but sea otters are unique because they don’t have blubber. Instead, they have fur more dense than any other mammal, with up to one million hairs per square inch. Most people have ten times less than that on their heads!

The ocean can also support very large life forms. The blue whale is the biggest animal on earth. It can be over 100 feet (30 meters) long. Blue whales are so large that a small person could crawl through their main arteries, and 20 people could stand on their tongue! Animals in the deep sea also live in a tough environment. One creature, the anglerfish, deals with the darkness by attracting its prey with a lure lit up by light-producing bacteria. When the prey is drawn to the lure, the anglerfish captures it with its big mouth for a tasty meal.

PEOPLE AND THIS BIOME: Do you like seafood? How about snorkeling or surfing? People everywhere heavily use the ocean for food, medicines, oil, other resources, and recreation. Demand for resources from the ocean is damaging ecosystems and depleting these resources. Around the world, unsustainable fishing practices, including the poisoning and dynamiting of coral reefs, catching unwanted fish, dragging nets on the sea floor, overfishing popular species, and fishing in critical reproductive areas are making the problem worse. Pollution is also harming the marine ecosystem. Pollutants, such as fertilizers and household products that are put down the drain make their way through streams and rivers into estuaries, and eventually to the ocean where they badly disrupt the ecosystem and can cause harm to sea life. Oil spills are also a large source of pollution in the oceans. Many organizations and people are currently trying to help protect and clean our oceans.

There are many simple things that you can do to help protect the ocean. Recycling, and making sure that chemicals don’t go down your household drains is an easy way to start. Also, cut all of your 6 pack rings before you throw them away. This will keep sea creatures from getting caught in the plastic rings. Buy seafood that is sustainably harvested to make sure that more sea creatures don’t get hurt by fishing. Lastly, learn more about the ocean. With knowledge and understanding you will be able to help save our threatened oceans.