Why does a whale spout water?
Whales have to come up to the surface of the water to breathe. When a whale comes up for air, it opens its blowhole and blows out old moist air in a spout of air and water. Whales can often be identified by their spouts!
Sperm whales make some of the longest dives achieved by mammals, with some lasting up to 90 minutes, while dolphins and other whales can stay underwater for 20 minutes. The longest time a human has held their breath for under water is 19 minutes – set by a Swiss freediver called Peter Colat.
- Transient killer whales have been recorded diving for up to 11.2 minutes. In another study, transient whales in the eastern North Pacific often stay submerged for more than 5 minutes and occasionally for more than 15 minutes in a single dive.
- When a whale breaches, its body leaves the water. Another theory is that breaching may be a form of communicating over great distances; the acoustic signal of a whale breaching can be intense and, as sound travels faster in water than air, it can be a quick way to transmit information such as location and size.
- Seals dive for three minutes at a time typically, but they can stay under water as long as 30 minutes and dive as deep as 600 feet. Unlike humans, harbor seals breathe out before diving.
Whales are warm blooded marine mammals that can tolerate cold water temperatures. Whales use blubber as an insulation layer to help maintain the energy and warmth when they dive to cool depths or travel to cold waters such as in Alaska. The blubber layer is a thick (6 inches) layer of fat that is found under the skin.
- Fish use their gills to take oxygen from the water that they live in. But people get the oxygen we need by breathing air, using our lungs. Whales and dolphins use their lungs to breathe air also. That's one reasons why they come to the surface of the ocean.
- Whales are warm-blooded marine mammals and as such they have certain internal metabolic processes that help them stay warm and help to stabilize their bodies temperature in cold environments. Whales are also able to keep warm due to the thick layer of insulated blubber that surrounds their body.
- Blubber helps these marine mammals from getting too cold. (Cold-blooded marine animals, such as fish, sharks or crabs, do not need to stay warm and can let their body temperatures get closer to that of the water. Thus, they do not need to have this extra insulation.) Blubber is a thick layer of fat (adipose) tissue.
But people get the oxygen we need by breathing air, using our lungs. Whales and dolphins use their lungs to breathe air also. That's one reasons why they come to the surface of the ocean. Sometimes they lie right at the surface of the water, with just a part of their back sticking out.
- Whales and dolphins have a unique respiratory system that lets them spend long periods of time (sometimes 30 minutes or longer) underwater, without taking in any oxygen.
- Unlike human beings, humpback whales are conscious breathers, which means they have to remember to breathe, even while sleeping. They either “rest quietly in the water, vertically or horizontally, or sleep while swimming slowly next to another animal.”
- Biologists have unravelled why deep diving mammals such as sperm whales can hold their breath for over an hour when diving for food – they have electrically charged proteins in their blood. The longest time a human has held their breath for under water is 19 minutes – set by a Swiss freediver called Peter Colat.
Updated: 28th November 2019