How Long Can Whales Hold Their Breath? Whale Breath Secrets

Dive into the mysterious depths of the ocean and discover the fascinating secrets behind whale breathing. From the giant blue whale to the elusive killer whale, they captivate us with their deep dives and extended underwater adventures. But, how long can whales hold their breath?

In this post, we’ll look at whale breath secrets and find out how these amazing sea giants can hold their breath for such an impressive amount of time. Get ready to be blown away by the incredible endurance of whales!

Here’s the Answer: How long can whales hold their breath?

Whales can hold their breath for about 60 minutes on average. The longest recorded dive time among whales is 222 minutes, with the Cuvier’s beaked whale being the record holder. Other species, such as sperm whales and northern bottlenose whales, can also hold their breath for up to 90 minutes. In 1969, some researchers recorded a male sperm whale could dive for 117 minutes.

What makes whales able to stay underwater for so long?

How Long Can Whales Hold Their Breath

Whales have many adaptations that help them stay underwater for extended periods of time. These include their physiology, behavior, and reproductive strategies. 

In contrast to humans, who keep oxygen in their lungs, whales have developed a physiological edge. Their bodies can store oxygen in the blood and muscles due to high levels of hemoglobin and myoglobin proteins that help keep this essential gas.

Behaviorally, whales use a technique called “shallow dive” to conserve energy during long dives. When a whale is at the surface of the water, it will swim in circles and stay close to the top of the water. This reduces drag against the surface of the water and can conserve energy.

Whales have developed an incredible adaptation to maximize their oxygen while they hunt; they substantially lower their heart rate and pause blood flow in specific organs such as the kidneys and liver. Consequently, whales can stretch out the amount of oxygen stored in their bodies for a longer period.

Additionally, beaked whales boast a refined body shape that allows them to stay underwater for extended periods. Their fins are shaped to fit into indentations along their bodies and take on an aerodynamic design resembling a torpedo. This helps the whale glide with little effort while conserving its oxygen stores as much as possible.

Finally, whales also have evolved reproductive strategies that enable them to stay underwater for longer periods. For example, female whales may become pregnant and give birth underwater, which helps them conserve energy and oxygen.

How long can sperm whales hold their breath?

Sperm whales can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes; the longest recorded dive time among sperm whales is 117 minutes. They have several adaptations that allow them to stay underwater for extended periods, including a streamlined body shape, efficient fins, and increased blood oxygen-binding proteins.

In addition to these features, sperm whales can also regulate their oxygen use by slowing down their metabolism, which helps them reduce their energy expenditure and maximize the amount of oxygen they can store in their bodies.

How long can humpback whales hold their breath?

A mature Humpback Whale’s lung capacity is the same size as that of a small car—an incredible feat! This remarkable lung power means these sea creatures can quickly saturate their blood with oxygen, allowing them to remain underwater for far longer than other marine mammals.

On average, a Humpback Whale can hold its breath for five to ten minutes. However, the more ease and relaxed it is, the longer it will be able to stay submerged underwater! The longest record was in Washington state – 48 amazing minutes – almost an hour of zero breathing!

How long can beluga whales hold their breath?

Beluga whales can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes. This is longer than most other mammals, although it pales compared to some whales, such as sperm whales, that can remain submerged for up to 90 minutes.

Beluga whales possess a distinct advantage in their powerful muscles, which are loaded with myoglobin- an oxygen-binding protein that helps avoid any lack of oxygen in the muscle. Myoglobin holds onto and stores oxygen to ensure prolonged activity and strength.

How long can killer whales hold their breath?

Killer whales are counted among apex predators. They’re dolphins, and it’d be intriguing to learn more about their underwater capacity to hold their breath.

It’s impressive that the apex predator killer whale can dive for up to 15 minutes. However, research has revealed that transient killer whales in the North Pacific have dived for as long as 11.2 minutes. While they are powerful predators of the sea, killer whales don’t quite hold their breath longer than some other species underwater.

How long can whales hold their breath – compared to humans?

How Long Can Whales Hold Their Breath

The average human can hold their breath for just one to two minutes. Compared to whales, humans cannot stay underwater for nearly as long. After years of dedicated training, Budimir Sobat from Croatia made history in 2021 by setting the world record for the longest human dive. He astoundingly held his breath underwater for 24 minutes and 37 seconds!

Do Whales Breathe Underwater?

No, whales do not breathe underwater. They have particular adaptations that allow them to hold their breath for extended periods of time, but they must eventually resurface to breathe through their blowhole. 

Whales are mammals lacking gills and cannot breathe underwater; therefore, they must use their blowholes to breathe air while swimming near the ocean’s surface. Not only do whales inhale through their blowholes, but they also exhale this way too!

How do whales sleep without suffocating?

Whales can sleep without suffocating by using a process known as “unihemispheric slow-wave sleep.” This occurs when one side of the brain remains active and alert while the other side is in a restful state. This allows whales to continue to breathe and keep one eye open for predators while still getting the rest they need.

When sleeping, whales remain near the water’s surface and use their fins to help maintain their position. They will also sometimes rest in shallow waters, where they can reach the surface if needed.


Due to some adaptations, whales can hold their breath for very long periods. These range from physical features, such as large lungs and myoglobin-rich muscles, to behavioral strategies, such as diving deeper and slower than other whales. How long a whale can hold its breath varies depending on the species but averages around 60 minutes.

Whales must still surface to breathe air, but they have adapted a special technique to sleep without suffocating simultaneously. By understanding these different adaptations, we can gain a greater appreciation for the amazing physiological capabilities of these creatures. If you’re ever lucky enough to see a whale, take the time to appreciate it and all it can do.

See our article What is a group of whales called? to know more about whales.