How Long Can a Dolphin Hold It’s Breath?

Dolphins. A girl swims with dolphins and shoots them on an action camera.

Dolphins are some of the most loved sea animals for their playful personalities and high level of intelligence. These mammals are frequently spotted jumping in Florida waters due to their need to come up for air and as a way to communicate. You may be wondering; exactly how long can a dolphin hold its breath? The answer might surprise you!

Dolphins, like all mammals, breathe in oxygen from the air. Unlike fish, who breathe underwater through their gills, dolphins hold their breath until they come up to the surface. Dolphins are extremely smart and agile animals. Their breathing process is intuitive and can be adjusted based on the current moment’s activities.

How Long?

When Dolphins swim down into the depths of the ocean for fish, they are actually holding their breath. The length of time that dolphins can hold their breath for varies based on a few factors. Bottlenose dolphins, for example, can stay underwater for around 8 to 10 minutes. Even when sleeping, a dolphin’s lighter bone structure allows them to sleep just below the surface. This allows them to pop up with their tail flukes every so often whilst asleep to take in the oxygen they need.

What other sea mammals can hold their breath underwater?

Gray whale in shallow ocean. Whale

While some members of the whale family like the sperm whale can hold their breath for approximately 90 minutes, others, like fin whales, can only last around 20 minutes. Until a few years ago, elephant seals were considered the species most adept at staying underwater. They can hold their breath for about two hours if needed before swimming back up for air. It wasn’t until a beaked whale was observed on a two hour and 17-minute dive that this fact changed. (Humans, on the other hand, can only last around two minutes!)

How does a dolphin breathe?


Dolphins are mammals, they need to breathe for their bodies to function. Instead of nostrils, dolphins have a blowhole at the top of their head. When they come to the surface for air, the blowhole opens, allowing them to breathe. When they head back under, the blowhole tightly closes under a thick layer of muscle. This prevents water from entering.


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The dolphin species has lungs that are proportionate to their bodies, just as other mammals do. However, what makes their lungs unique is how they function for dolphins. Breathing is a much more selective process for dolphins than humans for example, as they can choose when to come up for air and breathe. (Humans breathe without having to think!) Dolphin lungs also feature a much larger amount of air sacs within each lung. This adds capacity and also allows them to pump oxygen more efficiently into a more selective circulation process.

Dolphin holds its breath underwater

Circulatory and Other Systems

The entire circulatory system of dolphins is truly remarkable. It can discern which functions are needed and which can be temporarily paused while diving underwater. Not only does this extend the time until they need air, but it also saves energy.

For example, when dolphins dive deep, they can shut off or slow the following systems:

  • Digestive system
  • Blood flow
  • Heart rate

This process of selective use, allows a dolphin to stay down underwater as long as possible to swim or eat. Their tail muscles as well as their heart and brain can still function perfectly until it’s time to come up for air again. (Unfortunately, if humans attempted this they would end up with decompression sickness from the rapid changes in pressure.)

How do Dolphins Sleep?

These unique marine mammals show two basic methods of sleeping: they either rest quietly in the water, vertically or horizontally or sleep while swimming slowly next to other animals. A lot of this behavior has been observed in aquariums and zoos. Individual dolphins also enter a deeper form of sleep, mostly at night. Ever hear of logging? When dolphins sleep in this state, a dolphin resembles a log floating.

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Where can you go to see dolphins up close?

Florida is one of the best-known states for dolphin sightings, particularly if you are in Daytona Beach, Ponce Inlet, Ormond Beach, New Smyrna Beach, St. Augustine Beach or Palm Coast Beach.

  • Dolphin Tours

To see dolphins and other beautiful sea mammals like whales and manatees in their natural habitats, don’t miss one of the incredible Dolphin & Manatee Tours. Our tours allow you to get up close to these majestic creatures in their natural habitats during a 90-minute excursion.

  • Kayaking

A chartered tour isn’t the only way to spot dolphins in Florida. Located between Daytona and New Smyrna Beach, Ponce Inlet Watersports provides adventurers with kayak rentals to explore the pristine Ponce Inlet waterways. Kayaking allows you to spot Dolphins, explore at your own pace and even get some exercise in! (Check out our latest posts What to do in Orlando with Kids or, how many calories does kayaking burn?)


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Dolphins are impressively intelligent and intuitive mammals. Not only do they recognize their need to come up for air, but they also manipulate their circulatory systems when needed to extend their time below the surface. On average, dolphins can hold their breath for a total of between 8 to 10 minutes. They adjust their bodies when needed to help them maximize their time for diving and catching fish.

Dolphins can slow down their circulatory system’s blood flow and heart rate to conserve the energy and oxygen needed to stay underwater. When using their blowholes to take in oxygen, the water sitting on the surface sprays into the air. This helps give dolphins their iconic perception of playfulness. Witness these magnificent mammals with your own eyes on a Dolphin & Manatee Tour or kayaking adventure today!


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