From an outsider’s perspective, the earth’s waters are quite mysterious. Yet dolphins and whales seem to effortlessly glide through them with a gracefulness we can only admire from afar. But if you look closer, one incredibly curious aspect of these aquatic creatures stands out – their blowholes!
So, read on as we reveal the answer to the question, why do whales have blowholes? And explore the significance of dolphin blowholes and whale blowholes in their lives, and why these structures are so crucial to their survival. Whether you’re looking to deepen your understanding of these incredible sea animals or satisfy simple curiosity, this post has it all.
What is a Blowhole?
The blowhole is essentially an internal nostril, consisting of a single or pair of respiratory openings located on the top of a cetacean’s head. These are connected to the mammal’s lungs and allow them to take in the air quickly when they come to the surface for a breath. When submerged, the dolphin’s or whale’s blowhole is tightly sealed, preventing water from entering the lungs. The process of breathing in and exhaling is swift, allowing the animal to remain underwater for long periods without losing oxygen.
Unlike other mammals, this unique adaptation allows them to breathe without compromising their ability to find food in the water. By closing its blowhole before diving beneath the surface of the water and opening it when it surfaces for air, a whale or dolphin can stay submerged for long periods of time, yet still, have reserve oxygen from the atmosphere. Furthermore, because the blowhole is not connected to its mouth, there’s no risk of water entering its lungs while it’s hunting for food.
The Complex Process of Breathing through a Blowhole
Contrary to popular belief, whales don’t actually release water from their blowholes; instead, they expel a powerful burst of air, which creates a misty spray around the whale’s head due to the force of expulsion. This spray is composed of mucus, oils, and a bit of water from the wet surface of the blowhole. The force of this exhalation is so strong that it can be heard from miles away.
What’s more, every whale species has an iconic blow that makes it easier for researchers and enthusiasts alike to identify individual whales when out on the ocean. So, while whales may look like they’re releasing water from their blowhole, they are simply performing a vital function that helps them survive in their aquatic habitat.
How Blowholes Are Used to Communicate
A whale blowhole and a dolphin blowhole do more than just allow for rapid breathing. They also have a significant role in the cetacean’s echolocation system. Dolphins and whales both use echolocation to navigate their way underwater and locate prey. During echolocation, the animals emit a series of clicks, which bounce off objects and return to the animal’s internal organs where it is processed. Their blowhole is used in conjunction with air sacs located near it to produce sound. By manipulating the size of these air sacs, dolphins and whales are able to vary the loudness and complexity of their calls.
Additionally, dolphins’ blowholes are used to communicate with each other in a variety of ways. By changing the shape and size of the opening, dolphins can produce different sounds that can travel far distances. Through these sounds, dolphins can convey messages or emotions such as alarm, warning, contact, joy, sadness, and more. By using these sounds to signal each other, dolphins are able to form strong social bonds with one another and work together for long-term success.
The Anatomy behind the Blowhole
Interestingly, not all species of whales have the same number of blowholes. Toothed whales, such as orcas and dolphins, have one blowhole, while baleen whales, such as humpback whales, have two. The position and shape of the blowhole can also vary significantly between species, with some having a more dorsal location, while others are more anterior.
Now that you’ve learned why whales have blowholes, you likely want to learn more about these fascinating creatures, consider joining Harbor Breeze Cruises for a whale-watching excursion. You’ll have the chance to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat and witness a whale’s blowhole in action.