How do dolphins sleep without drowning? Is it true that they sleep with one eye open?

Dolphins, being air-breathing mammals, have to resurface every now and then to breathe fresh air. So, one wonders when and how they manage to get sleep.

Dolphins are a small group of whales and like other whales they have lungs instead of gills. They breathe through a single nostril called the blowhole located on top of the head. The blowhole is opened during their frequent trips to the surface to expel and inhale air.

Even though respiration has to continue with not more than few minutes’ respite between breaths, dolphins sleep an average of eight hours a day, but only allow one half of their brain to doze off at a time. They cannot ‘switch off’ both hemispheres of their brain and have deep sleep underwater, or they would drown. So sophisticated is the dolphin’s sleep system that it naps at the surface of the water, with half of its brain alert and the opposite eye open, while the other half of the brain is asleep with the opposite eye closed. (See photo above.) During sleep, the dolphin alternates position to allow each half of the brain to get its turn. In effect, the dolphin is awake and asleep at the simultaneously.

Not only do dolphins swim near the surface of the water but sometimes they swim vertically or horizontally as well. This phenomenon is known as logging. In other cases, dolphins might also sleep while slowly swimming next to another animal. Typically, in the case of dolphins, they eat, sleep and rest while their mother is swimming, obviously for protection. The mother uses her slipstream to tow them along, and she during the process might sleep as well.

Dolphins do not go into a deep sleep. Instead, they nap for 15 to 20 minutes until they need to come up to breathe. Even though dolphins remain half-awake while napping, it is not the case with a newborn, since a newborn does not have enough blubber and fat which helps an adult dolphin to keep afloat, it is imperative that the mother must not stop swimming. Otherwise, the calf will drown.

Additionally, dolphins are voluntary breathers, unlike us. It means that they have to inform their body when they need to breathe, and that is not possible if they are not focusing on their breathing, which is also the same as meditating. If dolphins were to be involuntary breathers like us and their brain was programmed to force the animal to breathe through its blowhole automatically, then the chances are that it would end up drowning, keeping a chase of its breaths. Therefore, dolphins will only breathe when they know that they are, and especially the blowhole is above the surface.

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
Dolphins: 101 Fun Facts & Amazing Pictures by Janet Evans
Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises by Erich Hoyt
Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises by Annalisa Berta

 

Dolphins: 101 Fun Facts & Amazing Pictures by Janet Evans

Janet Evans, in her book, perfectly explains every fun fact about dolphins in addition to their habitats and surviving techniques. Readers find this book a perfect source to know everything there is about dolphins. Furthermore, this book has a lot to tell about the top 6 dolphins in the world, along with what they like to eat, how they breathe and even entertain people.

Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises by Erich Hoyt

Enrich Hoyt’s encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises is a great global overview of cetaceans. The book differentiates itself from regular books based on dolphins as it consists of natural history and how dolphins have evolved in terms of their surviving habits. The author, through his 40 years of scientific interactions, has been able to point out behavioral and anatomical differences between species. He discusses dolphin captivity across the globe as well, along with the controversies that surround them.

Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises by Annalisa Berta

Annalisa Berta’s book on whales, dolphins, and porpoises focuses on up to date and solid information regarding evolution, biology, feeding techniques, and range maps, etc. The stunning photography allows the user to understand and familiarize themselves with different types of species. With over 89 species discussed in the book with pinpoint accurate information and description, there is no surprise that the book is a hit amongst readers.