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How do whales breathe?


How do whales breathe

Because whales live in the ocean, many people think they are fish. But whales and dolphins are not fish. They are mammals. People are mammals too. Mammals are the group of animals that breathe air using lungs, give birth to live young (rather than laying eggs) and feed their young with mother’s milk. All animals, including people, need oxygen, a chemical found in the air, and in water. Fish use their gills to take oxygen from the water that they live in. But people get the oxygen we need by breathing air, using our lungs. Whales and dolphins use their lungs to breathe air also.


That’s why they come to the surface of the ocean. Sometimes they lie right at the surface of the water, with just a part of their back holding out. Look closely at a picture of a whale or dolphin; can you see a nose on the whale? You can’t, because whales don’t have noses like you and me. Instead, they have a hole – called a “blow hole” – on top of their heads. Sometimes when a whale breathes air out of its blowhole, it shows up as a spray or mist – called a “spout” – that can be seen many miles away. Blowholes are circled by muscles that keep the hole closed when the whale or dolphin is underwater and open it when the animal is at the surface and needs to breathe.


Some of the animals have two blowholes next to each other and others have only one. So when you see a picture of a whale, see if you can tell the distinction. Pilot whales and dolphins have one blowhole; humpbacks, minkes, and right whales have two.


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