Whale Surfacing Behaviour

Whale surfacing is spectacular.

Leaping the body head-first out of the water and then falling back with a splash is called breaching.


Humpback Whale Breaching, Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia
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It is one of the most spectacular surface behaviours where either part or whole whale body is seen. Not all whales breach. Blue, sei and fin whales almost never breach, while humpback whales are known to do it often. When one whale breaches, another tends to do the same so it is thought to be a way of communication. Breaching is very popular with whale watchers and photographers, however it is impossible to predict and sometimes the sightings may be hours apart.


Spyhop Behavior, Killer Whale in Johnstone Strait near Vancounver Island, British Columbia, Canada
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means sticking its head out of the water, so far that the eyes are out, having a look around, and then sinking back to the water without a splash.

This is thought to be done to view the sea around it, possibly to look for predators such as killer whales, or to check out a splash of another whale. Some species do it more than others - gray whales and bowheads being some of the most usual.

Flipper Slapping

A Breaching Humpback Whale
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Flipper slapping is when a whale turns on its side and then slaps its flipper many times on the water surface.

Sometimes they roll on their back and stick both flippers out of the water, slapping. It is often seen when many humpbacks feed together.

It is also often seen in young whales, which is thought to be play just like in other mammals.


Whale Tail
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Fluking is done when a whale raises its tail to the air. This often happens when the whale is just about to dive.

As its head is pointed down, the tail automatically rises out of the water before disappearing for a good while while diving.

This is known to be done by humpback whales, blue whales, sperm whales and others.


Blue Whale, Raising Flukes, Sea of Cortez
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Lobtailing, on the other hand, is not only a consequence of diving but a form of communication.

It is when a whale lifts its tail and slaps its flukes against the water surface, making a noise. It keeps its head and blowhole under the water and slaps, sometimes many times.

It is known to be done to scare away predators from the calves, but may well mean many other forms of communication too.


Humpback Whale Blowing, Frederick Sound, South-East Alaska, USA
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The whale blow is a classic sight. It happens when a whale surfaces to empty its lungs from air and then breath new, fresh air in again.

Unlike fish, whales cannot get oxygen from the water and need to surface to breath in air.

It is done between the dives and it is sometimes done many times in a row. The blows are different for different species so they can be used for identification.

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