Do Whales Hold Their Breath: How, How Long, When And Several Whale Types 


Do Whales Hold Their Breath: How, How Long, When And Several Whale Types 

Despite their appearance as fish, whales are mammals that descended from four-legged land animals. This may raise the question of whether they could breathe underwater.

Underwater, whales can hold their breath. Although they can hold their breath for great periods, the length of time differs by species. That being said, a whale can retain its breath for about 60 min.

Do Whales Hold Their Breath
Image Credit: Blow of a blue whale in the Arctic sea by
(CC BY-SA 4.0) from Wikimedia

In this regard, it’s worth noting that whales have an advantage because they can hold their breath underwater for a maximum period of 90 minutes. The Curved Beak Whale, on the other hand, is the true winner, as it can dive for up to 138 minutes!

Isn’t it fascinating? Whales, although mammals are adaptable and well-suited to living in the water. And in this post, we’ll look at the breath-holding capacity of various whales and the facts around it. We will try to answer all the why’s, how’s, and when’s related to the subject matter.

How does a whale hold its breath?

Underwater, whales may hold their breath for an extended period underwater. However, it’s entirely different to figure out what specialization they have that qualifies them to do so.

When it comes to keeping their breath underwater, their lungs work in their favor. Their lungs are capable of getting the most out of each breath. Also, before inhaling maximum fresh air, whales exhale the stale air from their lungs. They can intake and retain their breath for extended periods of time because of this mechanism.

To keep things in context, an individual living absorbs around 5% of the oxygen from the air. Whales, on the other hand, can take up to 90% of the oxygen in their single inhalation. Hence, they take in more oxygen than humans, which their lungs can reserve in specific protein myoglobin.

Whales can also reduce their heart rate to save energy underwater by restricting blood supply to only just a few organs. They can retain their breath for long durations underwater thanks to this technique.

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How long do whales hold breathe underwater?

Whales are mammals that require oxygen in their lungs to survive. Whales can’t breathe underwater, but they can retain their breath for a long time. So how long can they manage to stay underwater without gasping for air?

The duration a whale can retain its breath underwater fluctuates by species. For instance, a whale can maintain its breath for approximately 90 minutes, which really is incredible. A Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, on the other hand, can hold its breath for up to 138 minutes. Humpback whales, on the contrary, can maintain their breath for up to an hour.

Killer whales, on the contrary, do not come out as the winner in this situation. On average, they can only retain their breath for roughly 15 minutes. When traveling swiftly, they can be seen surfacing at least once every minute or every 4-5 minutes traveling leisurely.

Here is a list of whales and their breath-holding capacity underwater to make it easy for you to understand.

Whale SpeciesMaximum Time (approx.)
Blue whale50-60 minutes
Fin whale20 minutes
Humpback whale 60 minutes
Cuvier’s Beaked Whale90-138 minutes
Killer whales15 minutes
How long whales hold breathe underwater

How long can blue whales hold their breath?

Blue whales are the largest mammals on our planet. They’re huge yet versatile. But, like their eating habits, their breath-holding capacity is also worth discussing.

The ability of a blue whale to keep its breath underwater, for approximately around 90 minutes, is remarkable. However, after about 30 minutes, they generally reappear on the water surface. A blue whale’s deepest dive has been recorded roughly 1,000 feet underwater.

Through their blowouts, blue whales exhale stale air and inhale fresh oxygen near the surface of the ocean water. When they apply this strategy, it’s a sight to witness.

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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 capacity to hold their breath underwater.

Killer whales or orcas can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes beneath the water’s surface. According to research, transient killer whales in the North Pacific have been observed diving for up to 11.2 minutes. While being apex predators, killer whales do not win when it comes to holding their breath. 

How long can humpback whales hold their breath?

Image Credit: A humpback whale breathing out by ArtTower from Pixabay

Humpback whales are incredible creatures. The sight of them breaching the sea is something that all whale enthusiasts look forward to seeing. It’s also a magnificent sight to see them blowing air.

Humpback whales can retain their breath for around 60 minutes, according to whale biologists. They do not, however, stay immersed for long periods. In fact, Humpback whales often dive for 4-7 minutes before returning to the surface for 6-8 breaths.

How do Whales Breath?

Whales are mammals, and their breathing systems are similar to humans in that they require oxygen to fill their lungs. However, unlike humans and other land mammals, they lack noses. So, how do they take in oxygen?

Whales use their lungs for breathing. Whales breathe through their blowholes at the top of their heads rather than through their noses or mouths. Whales utilize their specialized nostrils or blowholes to exhale and absorb air while they swim near the water’s surface.

They dive underwater after breathing in, closing their blowholes with muscular flaps that prevent them from breathing in water. 

Do Whales Breathe Underwater?

Image Credit: A whale’s blowhole by Fitschen from Pixabay

Have you ever witnessed whales blowing air out of their blowholes? Isn’t it a beautiful sight? Of course, it is, as we all know. Do they, however, breathe underwater?

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Whales are mammals that breathe through their lungs and cannot breathe underwater because they lack gills. So instead, whales use their blowholes to inhale air while swimming near the water’s surface. They also use their blowholes to exhale.

In this regard, it’s worth noting that some whale species may exhale at speeds of up to 300 mph through their blowholes.

Do beluga whales breathe underwater?

Beluga whales do not dive deep. They usually plunge to a depth of around 20 meters and stay underwater for almost 10 minutes. So do they breathe underwater? Let’s explore.

Beluga whales lack gills and hence are unable to breathe underwater. They only have one blowhole, which they open to exhale right before approaching the water’s surface. They immediately inhale and shut the blowhole with a powerful muscular flap.

Do killer whales breathe underwater?

Image Credit: An orca surfacing from Pxhere

Killer whales are not whales in real terms. They are dolphins and mammals like whales. However, it is interesting to shed light if they can breathe underwater.

Killer whales cannot breathe underwater. The sole reason behind their inability is the lack of gills. However, like other mammals, killer whales also need to breathe through their lungs, which makes them swim near the water surface to exhale and inhale air. 


Whales, like other ocean mammals, have extraordinary undersea capabilities that enable them to flourish. One of these modifications is their way to sustain their breath for long-duration underwater. As a result, whales can seek prey and travel great distances thanks to their ability to stay underwater for lengthy periods. We hope you liked our article and learned things about whales’ breath-holding capacity resulting from it.

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