How Long Can Beluga Whales Hold Their Breath?

Beluga whales can hold their breath for about fifteen minutes. A typical dive for this type of whale lasts no more than ten minutes. 

All mammals can alter their physiological adaptations for diving. A beluga whale is no exception. Like other whales, it breathes oxygen from the air before diving underwater.  It can conserve oxygen to facilitate breathing even when it is underwater. 

Do Beluga Whales Have Lungs?

Yes, Beluga whales have lungs. In fact, if you study whales closely, you will find that most of these humungous sea creatures have lungs instead of gills. This is because they are mammals, unlike fish, and cannot breathe underwater. 

Did you know? Beluga whales have a nostril-like blowhole located on the top of their heads. This nasal opening allows them to breathe just like humans. 

The lung is the respiratory organ of a beluga whale. When air is inhaled, it goes from the larynx to the trachea. This trachea is a tube that is surrounded by muscle and cartilage. Further, this trachea becomes divided into two bronchi which eventually go to the lungs.

Bronchi are further branched into numerous bronchioles. Bronchioles then lead to alveoli. In those small alveoli sacks, oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange between the lungs and blood occurs.

Though the features and functions of the lungs of a beluga whale are almost the same as human lungs, there are a few dissimilarities. 

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Human lungs are more voluminous than those of beluga whales. Most importantly, beluga whales can renew 90% of the air with their lungs in every breath. In comparison, human lungs can only renew 10-12% oxygen in a single breath.

Do Beluga Whales Have Gills?

No, Beluga whales do not have gills. Beluga whales belong to the class of mammals. That’s why they possess lungs instead of gills.

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Gills are the distinguishing features of fish and many amphibious species. On the other hand, beluga whales are marine mammals. Hence, like other mammals, they have lungs and nostrils.

They take a breath by surfacing themselves. Beluga whales exhale with huge water sprouts from their blowhole. They also inhale air with their blowholes.

Can Beluga Whales Breathe in Water?

No. Beluga whales can’t breathe inside the water because they don’t have any gills to continue breathing when they are inside the water.


Gills provide the advantage of extracting oxygen directly from the water. For breathing, those animals don’t have to come to the surface. 

On the contrary, beluga whales need oxygenated air for breathing. As they lack gills, they can’t draw oxygen from water. That’s why they need to return to the surface frequently for breathing purposes.

If they fail to return to the surface on time, this may lead to the suffocation of beluga whales. But, thanks to evolutionary adaptation! They can hold their breath for a long period when they are inside the water.

How do Beluga Whales Breathe? How Many Times do They Breathe per Minute?

Beluga whales have a unique respiratory system. This uniqueness is suitable for their deep-sea dive. Generally, the frequency of breath of a beluga whale differs according to its location.

Under the water, the blowholes remain closed. Hence, water can’t enter into beluga whales’ bodies. Once reaching the surface, they open up their blowhole to exhale stale air from their body. The opening of the blowhole occurs due to contractions of a small muscular flap. 

Besides, the exhaled air comes out in the form of a pressurized towering gust. The sprouts of water take place due to powerful exhalation from blowholes. Because of this water mist around the blowhole, a beluga whale can inhale fresh water when entering any water. 

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They spend a few minutes on the surface to take a few quick breaths. After that, the muscles around the blow holes become normal, and they dive into the water again.

When a beluga whale comes to the surface for exhalation, it takes almost 4-5 breaths per minute. When travelling in a shallow depth, they come to the surface every 3-5 minutes to take a breath. But they can hold their breath longer when they dive into deep water.

How Long Can Beluga Whales Hold their Breath?

Researchers state that an adult male beluga can hold its breath for a maximum of 13.6 minutes, whereas an adult female beluga can hold for 12.5 minutes. 

Beluga whales have to hold their breath to survive. Normally, it’s not an easy deal to get prey near the surface. Hence, they have to dive into the deep water in search of their prey for food. They can hold their breath for almost 15 minutes, which helps them dive almost 800 meters into the water.

Beluga whales’ bodies are adapted to store oxygen in their muscles and blood. Because they have a great amount of myoglobin and hemoglobin in their body, these two components are often called the high level of oxygen-storing proteins.

They take almost 90% oxygen while breathing. When they dive into deep water, their blood flow is redirected to only vital organs such as the heart, brain, etc. And blood flow is reduced from idle organs such as the kidney and liver. Due to this, beluga whales’ heart rates will also be decreased.

Even if they can switch to anaerobic respiration when oxygen storage runs out, their tissue damage is a major concern. The pressure difference between gas-filled air cavities and water can potentially cause tissue rupture. This is known as barotrauma.

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As they have enough oxygen supply in their blood, their lungs remain idle until they return to the surface. Therefore, beluga whales can hold their breath very easily.

How Long Can a Beluga Whale Hold its Breath while Sleeping?

Beluga whales don’t exactly sleep as humans do. They remain in semi-sleeping conditions.

Contraction of the blowhole muscle is essential for the breathing of beluga whales. If beluga whales sleep, they can’t control their blowhole muscles, which will result in exhaling stale air from the body into the water. 

But, as they are semi-sleeping, they are conscious enough to control their blowhole muscles. That’s how they hold their breath even while sleeping.

Can Beluga Whales Survive Without Water?

Yes, Beluga Whales can survive without water because they are mammals. That means they have lungs capable of breathing oxygen from the air.

Even if beluga whales are in the water, they need to come to the surface to breathe. In other words, there is no risk of suffocating the beluga whale without water.

But still, a beluga whale is not adapted to live without water. The density difference between water and air makes it difficult for them. Their thick blubber of the body will no longer be sustained, and damage to their organs will take place.

Moreover, beluga whales are acclimated to cold water. That means their chances of surviving for longer periods without cold water are almost impossible.

Final Words

Beluga whales are interesting mammals that can hold their breath deep inside the water. Though they are mammals, their features have been adapted accordingly for their survival in the environment. That’s why they have slightly distinct characteristics from any other mammals.

In this article, I discussed beluga whales’ respiratory system and functions. I hope it helped you to clear out all your relevant confusion.

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