American Oceans
Bottlenose Dolphin breathes through blowhole

How Long Can a Bottlenose Dolphin Hold its Breath?

Have you ever seen a dolphin out in the distance while visiting the beach or out on a boat? It’s fair to say bottlenose dolphins are one of the most beloved sea creatures for their playful attitude and occasional appearance. 

But why do dolphins breach the surface from time to time?

Well, dolphins actually come out of the water briefly to communicate with others and look at their surroundings, but most importantly, to breathe. 

So how often does a dolphin need to come up for air? And how long can a bottlenose dolphin hold its breath

Read on to learn more about the breathing patterns of these animals!

Why Do Dolphins Breathe Above Water?

Bottlenose Dolphin Blowhole

Before we get into how long dolphins can hold their breath, let’s talk about why they have to do so in the first place.

Unlike most sea creatures, dolphins cannot breathe underwater as they lack a vital piece of anatomy, gills. In fact, dolphins have lungs just like we do. 

This means they must breathe oxygen in from the air rather than in the water. 

Much like humans breathe in air through their nostrils, dolphins have a blowhole, found at the top of their head, that serves the same purpose.

Dolphins also breathe oxygen from the air because they’re mammals. This means we actually share a few characteristics with these animals. 

For instance, they are warm-blooded, maintain a constant body temperature, dolphin babies are born alive, and they have a complex brain.

How Long can a Bottlenose Dolphin Hold its Breath?

Bottlenose Dolphin swims above surface

Alright, now to the good stuff, how long can dolphins actually go without breathing? 

Believe it or not, bottlenose dolphins can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes! However, they typically come up to the surface 2-3 times per minute.

This ability is very useful in allowing them to have enough time to dive and catch food. 

You may be wondering, if humans and dolphins both have lungs, why are dolphins able to hold their breath for so much longer? 

Well, this is due to multiple reasons. Primarily, dolphins have a better ability to preserve oxygen than humans. 

When they dive, dolphins slow their heart rate and conserve blood mainly for the brain and the heart, which need the most oxygen. 

Additionally, other tissues in the dolphin body have the ability to store oxygen for short amounts of time. 

Other Mammals that Can Hold Their Breath

So what other mammals can hold their breath and for how long? 

Your first thought may have been humans. Unlike dolphins, most humans can only hold their breath for about 30 seconds to a minute.

On the other hand, a more impressive contender is the whale. Whales, much like dolphins, have the ability to conserve oxygen and can, in turn, hold their breath for up to 90 minutes!

Next Time You Hold Your Breath

So, the next time you hold your breath, think about what it might be like if you were a dolphin! These animals sure do have some unique abilities! Learn more about these amazing creatures with our Bottlenose Dolphin Fact Guide.

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