Sleeping Whales: Photographers Reveal What Whales Look Like When They Snooze

August 1, 2022 at 6:23 pm




Sperm whales organize themselves into strange vertical patterns at bedtime, appearing to sleep “standing up”




It’s hard to imagine what an animal the size of a school bus looks like when it sleeps, but thanks to British diver and photographer Patrick Dykstra and French diver and photographer Stephane Granzotto, now we know.

Stephane Granzotto: National Geographic

When sperm whales get tired, they take a deep breath, dive down about 45 feet and arrange themselves into perfectly-level, vertical patterns, according to National Geographic.

Stephane Granzotto: National Geographic

They sleep sound and still for up to two hours at a time between breaths, in pods of 5 or 6 whales, presumably for protection.

No one knew whales slept vertically until a 2008 study documented the behavior. And no one captured really great photos of it until 2017.

French photographer and filmmaker Stephane Granzotto was documenting sperm whales in the MediterraneanĀ  for his photo book on the creatures, when he came across the strange behavior.

Stephane Granzotto: National Geographic


While sperm whales in captivity sleep with one eye open and half of their brain alert, there is evidence that they enter fuller, deeper sleep in the wild.

Stephane Granzotto: National Geographic

The study noted sperm whales in Chile were observed sleeping deeply until a ship with its engines off accidentally bumped into them.

For more of Patrick Dykstra‘s work, check out his Discovery Channel TV series Chasing Ocean Giants.