Thirsty Giants: Do Whales Drink Water?

do whales drink water

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Whales are a widely distributed and diverse group of marine mammals that can be found in all oceans around the world.

With around 40 different species of whales, they differ vastly in size, behavior, diet, and much more.

As air-breathing mammals, whales are required to surface to replenish their oxygen stores by breathing through their blowhole.

But what about drinking? One question that often comes up when discussing these ocean giants is do whales drink water?

That’s why in this post, we’re going to deep dive into the world of whale hydration and look at the science behind how these animals fight off dehydration.

Let’s get into it…

Do Whales Drink Water?

YES, whales do sometimes drink water directly from the ocean. However, they are not required to drink as much water as land mammals due to not being exposed to the sun as much.

The primary source of water for most whales comes through their food such as krill, squid, and fish which are largely made up of water.

This means that whales are not required to drink as frequently as terrestrial animals as their food provides them with enough hydration.

do whales drink water
Image by B W

Whales also produce metabolic water when processing fats and carbohydrates which also contributes to their hydration.

Combine this with the massive amounts of food they eat on a daily basis and they’re pretty much good to go on the hydration front.

How Do Whales Get Fresh Water To Drink?

So how is it that whales are able to drink salt water and we humans are unable to?

Well, this comes down to the difference in kidneys. Whales have kidneys that are specialized in filtering out salt from the seawater, allowing them to regulate the salt content within their bodies.

When whales swallow saltwater, it goes into their stomachs where it is mixed together with food.

The stomach lining of whales is made up of several layers that absorb water from seawater and transport it to their bloodstream.

Their strong kidneys will then filter out excess salt from their bodies and excrete it through urine, which allows them to swallow salt water or drink when needed.

Some whale species such as the humpback have a special gland known as the “salt gland” that removes excess salt from their bodies and excretes it through their blowhole.

As you can see, whales have a physiology that allows them to deal with salt water incredibly efficiently, separating the salt from the water and using it for hydration when they need to.

Whilst it’s rare for whales to purposefully drink saltwater, it may happen from time to time if the whale is struggling to find enough food to remain hydrated.

Do Whales Need To Drink Water?

No, whales do not need to drink water separately as we humans and other terrestrial animals need to, they get almost all of their water directly from their food.

The prey that whales consume such as small fish, krill, plankton, and squid contain large amounts of water that is enough to keep the whale hydrated.

When processing this food, whales also produce water as a byproduct of processing carbohydrates which contributes to their hydration.

Therefore, there is really no need for whales to drink water in the sense that you and I do, but it’s true that whales do sometimes do this if they need to.

Whales’ bodies are extremely good at separating salt from the water and excreting any excess that they don’t need.

Do Whales Swallow Water?

Yes, whales regularly swallow water when they are feeding, especially baleen whales that feed by expanding their mouths and gobbling up large amounts of small prey.

But they don’t drink this water, instead, they separate the salt from the water through their kidneys and then excrete the salt through urine or their blowhole.

Their specialized system allows them to process the seawater they swallow, extract the water they need from the prey, then excrete everything else.

It’s a fascinating system that allows whales to swallow as much salt water as they need without consuming too much salt.

Do Whales Get Thirsty?

Whales don’t get thirsty in the way that we humans do as they get all of their water from their food, so they don’t have that “thirsty” feeling.

They consume so much food on a daily basis that is largely made up of water, and they produce water as a byproduct of processing the food, so they’re never craving a can of Coca-Cola as we humans do.

While it is true that whales can directly consume water through their mouths and “drink” in a sense, it’s very rare that they do this as it’s simply not needed.

do whales drink water
Image by FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

The only time that a whale may feel thirsty in a sense is if they are struggling to take in enough food and therefore not able to stay hydrated.

But in general, whales do not experience the sensation of thirst as many terrestrial animals do.

Wrapping Up

In summary, whales do have the ability to drink water as they have an amazing system that allows them to separate and excrete salt from seawater.

However, whales get all of the water they need from the food they eat, which includes krill, squid, small fish, and plankton.

These creatures are largely made up of water, and combined with the fact that whales produce metabolic water as a byproduct of processing this food, you’ve got yourself a well-hydrated whale!

Whales swallow an enormous amount of seawater every day as they feed, especially baleen whales, but they’re not doing this to “drink” as such and are instead eating.

They then separate the salt from that seawater and expel it through their kidneys or salt gland, depending on the species.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post today and I hope you have enjoyed it.

Whales are truly remarkable creatures that we’re learning more and more about every year, from their behaviors, to sleep patterns and everything in between.

We’ll be sure to keep you updated with all of humanity’s recent findings with regard to whales and other marine life, so consider signing up for our newsletter for the most recent updates.

See you next time!