Breaching Bonanza!


The ultimate whale behavior that everyone wants to see on a whale watching trip is the breach, where a whale throws two-thirds to its entire body out of the water, landing with a massive splash. It’s very common for us to see these huge splashes out in the distance during our whale watches, but only the very lucky get to see it right next to the boat. Today we were very lucky.

We were headed towards a pec-slapping mother and calf, when all of a sudden the mother rocketed from the water up into the air, close enough that we could see the individual barnacles on her chin plate. She landed with an incredible wave of water and a resounding “thwack,” generated from the immense power it must take to launch forty tons of whale out of the ocean. Her proximity to the boat and my zoom lens resulted in the very cool first set of photos.

She continued to breach another 10 times or so, while her calf seemed to mimic her. Because of the circumstances, we assume this could have been a teaching moment, where the mother was teaching the calf to breach. However, determining the reasons behind whale behavior can be very tricky. Some scientists believe breaching could be a form of communication between whales. The sound definitely travels far and is very loud. Sometimes observers will see, what seem to be, response breaches. Breaching could potentially alert others, maybe even boats, of the whale’s location. Breaches could also be used to remove parasites like the barnacles or whale lice. Forty tons of whale smacking down on the surface of the water would definitely rip some of those things off. It’s also possible that a breach could be used to look around. Though I doubt that was the case for our whale, as her eyes were closed during her breaches. Or maybe breaching might even be for fun. Behavior can be very situational and since we can’t ask the whales themselves, we may never know for sure.

It surprised a lot of people on the boat to know that we weren’t in very deep water, only about 60 to 90 feet (we drifted around a little while watching her). Because their caudal peduncle muscle is so strong, humpbacks don’t have to dive that deep, only a body length or two, to build up enough energy to breach. Some of the crew said they’ve even seen whales breach from just lying at the surface!

The mother’s full breaches slowly turned into lazy breaches and then she and her calf started resting at the surface. Just as they stopped, we began to see two other mother and calf pairs start breaching, peduncle throwing, tail slapping and pectoral slapping off in the distance. So we left our first group and headed off to look at some other active mother’s and calves. With all of the amazing activity out there today, especially the close up breaches, I’d say we won the whale behavior lottery today.



Anonymous (visitor) says:

amazing!! I'm so jealous that I wasn't there too

Anonymous (visitor) says:

Your pictures are breathtaking! Wish I could have been there.