Where Do Blue Whales Sleep?

November 1, 2023

As mammals, whales need to sleep. But unlike humans, who can crawl into bed and catch some needed zzz’s before they wake up to start the day, whales must find ways to get their rest while still being conscious of their environment and remaining alert for predators. Fortunately, whales have evolved to sleep in some pretty cool ways that allow them to continue to thrive as marine mammals.

While it may seem strange that whales have adapted to sleeping on the water’s surface, this behavior actually makes perfect sense for these massive sea creatures. As a result of their size, whales need to conserve as much energy as possible while still being able to breathe. So by resting on the surface, they can shut down one half of their brain while keeping the other awake to maintain awareness of potential dangers and remember to take a breath.

This type of sleeping is referred to as unihemispheric slow wave sleep and it has been observed in both captive and wild dolphins and whales. In fact, a study on bottlenose dolphins found that the animals spend 33.4 percent of their day asleep!

Some species, like humpbacks, have been found to sleep motionless on the water’s surface for up to 30 minutes at a time. However, they can’t sleep like this for long because being inactive would cause them to lose too much body heat.


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