Dolphins are marine mammals that need to breathe in order to survive underwater. Unlike fish, they have lungs that are used to breathe oxygen from the air.
This means that like whales, dolphins must surface once in a while in order to breathe. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at dolphins and find out the answer to can dolphins drown?
Although incredibly rare, dolphins can actually drown from a lack of oxygen. They are well adapted to life underwater and have some special methods they use to maximize their time in the deep.
How Do Dolphins Breathe?
Dolphins have blowholes which they use to inhale oxygen and expel carbon dioxide from their lungs, meaning they never have to actually fully bring their bodies out of the water to breathe.
They have lungs just like we humans do. They need to come to the surface and breathe air in order to survive underwater, but they spend very little time at the surface of the ocean actually doing this.
This is because they are much more efficient at using their lungs than we are, and surprisingly they don’t have much bigger lungs than us humans.
They can hold their breath for between 8 – 12 minutes and are able to collapse their lungs in order to expel carbon dioxide and replenish their lungs with oxygen-rich air.
Dolphins are much more efficient at using their lungs than we land mammals are because of this, they have a much higher tidal volume allowing them to get more out of their lungs.
Dolphins have adapted to breathing over millions of years, and are incredibly well adapted to living in the ocean.
It takes around 3 – 4 seconds for us humans to inhale a nice deep breath in order to satisfy our lungs, whereas in that same period of time, a dolphin could inhale and exhale 16 times.
They are much, much faster breathers than us humans, which is why you see them surface incredibly quickly and then be able to dive down again.
This is what the high-pressure blow is when you see them surface, they expel carbon dioxide and breath in another big breath incredibly quickly, allowing them to stay on the move without lack of oxygen.
Do Dolphins Accidentally Drown?
It’s incredibly rare for dolphins to drown as they are well adapted to life in the ocean and know when they need to surface to breathe.
Dolphins simply won’t inhale underwater which stops them from drowning, however, there are some circumstances where dolphins may drown.
Caught In A Fishing Net
One instance where a dolphin may drown is if it is caught in a fishing net. This can happen as it may panic and try to dive deeper to escape the net.
Marine mammals are only able to hold their breath for a certain amount of time, and if they are physically restrained from surfacing, they will drown and die.
Attacked By A Predator
Although dolphins are well-equipped predators themselves, they are sometimes attacked by sharks and other species of dolphin, such as Orca.
If this happens and they are injured or dragged further underwater, they may find themselves running out of oxygen quickly and being unable to surface to breathe.
Water Entering Blowhole
In some instances, for example, if a dolphin finds itself beached and unable to move on the shoreline whilst the tide comes in.
Water may enter the dolphin’s blowhole, which will directly enter its lungs and drown the dolphin.
How Long Can Dolphins Stay Underwater?
On average dolphins are able to hold their breath for between 8 – 12 minutes, but this largely depends on factors such as the species and size of the dolphin.
Orcas can typically hold their breath for a maximum of 15 minutes, but they will surface every 3 – 5 minutes whilst traveling to ensure they have enough oxygen.
Dolphins are able to adjust their bodies in order to maximize the amount of time they can spend underwater whilst diving deep for prey.
They slow down their circulatory systems’ blood flow and heart rate to conserve energy and oxygen which are needed to stay underwater.
Can dolphins drown? Yes, although it is super rare for this to happen. Dolphins are superb breathers, much better than we humans are.
Their breathing speed is much faster than ours and their ability to slow their circulatory system down to conserve more energy is amazing.
They are just as good at not breathing as they are at breathing, being able to hold their breath for around 12 minutes in most circumstances.
Dolphins are able to divert oxygen from some areas of their bodies that are not using it, to areas that do such as their brain and heart.
This allows them to stay underwater longer whilst hunting, ensuring that they don’t miss the opportunity for a kill when they need it.
Hopefully, this post has been helpful and you’ve learned something new today about dolphins and how they breathe, as well as why they rarely drown.
Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years. I’ve spent over a decade in the marine wildlife industry and spent years out in the field conducting research. In today’s modern world, an online blog is the best place for me to share my findings and reach as many people as possible to help educate and inspire others. Enjoy your time here and you’re welcome back anytime!