Whales, It Seems, Don’t Sleep Much

What is it that we don’t already know about whales? They have been the planet’s favourite cause for many years now. Well, it seems that they don’t need very much sleep; and the sleep they do get may only be in half their brain at any one time.

Sperm whales literally drift to sleep, but it’s a snooze like no other, according to a recent study that found whales perform slow, rhythmic dives as they slumber. Because these drift dives keep the whales in constant motion as they rest, scientists now think the seafaring mammals sleep with one side of their brain at a time. The two sides alternate until both are rested …

whale sleeping

The scientists observed two types of drift dives. The first, head-up drift dives, happen when a whale’s rear end slowly sinks into the water from a horizontal posture. During the second type, head-down, the whale descends slowly with its head directed toward the ocean floor. It travels downward about one or two body lengths in depth before flipping back upward toward the water’s surface. The researchers think the whale’s internal buoyancy causes this natural upward motion, similar to how a sinking apple eventually bobs back to the surface …

“Their bodies have found a way to cope, offering evidence that sleep isn’t necessary for development, and raising the question of whether humans and other mammals have untapped physiological potential for coping without sleep,” said Jerome Siegel, director of the Center for Sleep Research at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Interesting research, with more detail at Discovery News.

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