Photographer Franco Banfi and a team of scuba divers were following a pod of sperm whales when suddenly the large creatures became motionless and began to take a synchronized vertical rest. This phenomenon was first discovered only in 2008, when a team of biologists from the UK and Japan inadvertently drifted into a group of sperm whales floating just below the surface, completely oblivious to their surrounding. It was only when one of boats accidentally bumped into one of the whales, did the animal woke up and the entire pod scurried off.
Until then it was thought that sperm whales, like other toothed cetaceans, slept with one side of their brain turned on to do important things that require physical activity, such as swimming or coming to the surface to breathe or avoid predators. It’s like keeping one eye open at all times, never fully letting their guard down.
The 2008 incident suggested that whales might sleep with both sides of the brain turned off. The researchers also discovered that whales take short, but periodic, bouts of sleep throughout the day with periods ranging between 6 and 24 minutes, but drift into deep sleep for only about 7 percent of the time. These these brief naps might be the only time the whales sleep, which would make sperm whales possibly the least sleep-dependent mammals known to man.
Now that’s a deep sleep! Photographer captures an incredibly rare shot of a pod of whales snoozing vertically
1. Franco Banfi, 58, caught the magnificent creatures around 65ft underwater, along with a free diver
2. Sperm whales nap vertically for between six and 25 minutes, but are awake 93% of the time
3. The pod of ten whales was photographed just off the coast of the Caribbean island Dominica
Mr Banfi, from Cadro, Switzerland, said: ‘This was a group of around ten sperm whales all sleeping together.
‘I don’t know why they sleep vertically, maybe because they can use the sonar they have in their head to sense any danger approaching.
He added: ‘I was very lucky to see such a great moment in nature, and I’m thankful the whales trusted me and gave me the opportunity to attend the show. It doesn’t happen like that every time you see them.’
Sperm Whales Sleeping – Discovery Ch. Magic of the Blue
The image, Synchronized Sleepers, was a finalist in the 2017 Big Picture Competition in the category of Human/Nature. You can see more of the Switzerland-based photographer’s underwater photography on his website and Instagram. (via kottke.org)