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Thursday, July 24, 2008

article : You Know, Just Time Has Newborn Dolphins Are Active 24/7

By Laura Klappenbach,

Scientists have discovered that baby dolphins and infant orcas are insomniacs. The newborn cetaceans remain active around the clock for the first month of their lives. As a result, their mothers are deprived of sleep as well. Gradually, over the course of several months, the newborns and their mothers both increase their sleep time until they reach a normal level of sleep.

There may be significant advantages to young cetaceans that remain active for the first few weeks after birth. Constant activity may reduce the dangers posed by predators—by not sleeping, the young simply do not let their guard down. It may also help to maintain high body temperature until the young animal can pack on a sufficient layer of blubber. Additionally, the young cetaceans must surface more frequently than adults to breathe and staying awake all night may ensure they are better able to surface as much as is needed. Finally, the extended period of wakefullness may enable the young cetaceans a period of rapid growth and development.

Dr. Jerome Siegel, professor-in-residence at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and chief of neurobiology research at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System described the findings and their implications:

"Somehow these seafaring mammals have found a way to cope with sleep deprivation, facilitating rather than hindering a crucial phase of development for their offspring. 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."

The research project was conducted by a group of neuroscientists from UCLA and the VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System. The team observed two adult female killer whales and their calves and four dolphins and their calves; all of the animals that were studied were observed in captivity.

Find out more: Behavioral Aspects of Sleep in Bottlenose Dolphin Mothers and Their Calves (UCLA)

Photo © Debra McGuire / iStockphoto.

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