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Keywords:

  • dolphin;
  • sleep;
  • unihemispheric sleep;
  • Lagenorhynchus obliquidens

Abstract

Dolphin sleep is unlike typical mammalian sleep in that slow wave sleep occurs in one hemisphere at a time and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is apparently reduced or absent (Mukhametov 1987). Lilly (1964) observed that bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) sleep with one eye open and one eye closed and suggested that the open eye monitored the immediate area for predators. Mukhametov (1987) and Supin et al. (1978) found no physiological correlation between the active brain hemisphere and the open eye, and suggested that no sentinel function exists. I describe the behavioral and social aspects of sleep in a captive school of four Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) at Long Marine Lab at the University of California at Santa Cruz for 32 nights. As the animals swam in formation, I recorded their positions and eye condition. Dolphins did not close their eyes or switch positions in the school randomly. While in formation, dolphins switched positions in bouts while concurrently changing eye condition. This resulted in a sleeping formation in which the dolphins likely had the eye open towards schoolmates, not toward the external environment. I suggest that this allows sleep to proceed while allowing dolphins to maintain visual contact with group members.