Whales exhibit various types of amazing physical behaviour when they surface. Here are some of thier fascinating displays and the possible reasons behind them:
The Whale Blow
It is possible to observe the prescence of a whale from afar by the spray of water shooting up from their blow-holes. This occurs when the whale breathes after being submerged under the water.
Their breath rushes out at speeds up to 450 kilometres per hour and can go up to a height of 5 metres. The spray apparently has a prominent fishy smell and also contains sufficient oil content to smear the lens of a camera should a photographer be too close.
Whale Breaching and Lunging
This is a spectacular display and involves the whale leaping out of the water, nearly clearing its whole body size. The act of leaping generates more power than any other act performed by a non-human animal.
A breach and lunge can usually be defined in that a breach is a leap in which practically all of the animals body clears the water and a lunge as a leap with less clearance of the water. Therefore, a breach is a genuine jump with the intent to clear the water as much as possible, whereas a lunge is the result of a fast upward sloping swim, perhaps as a result of feeding, that has caused the whale to clear the surface of the water by accident.
Some whales, such as Sperm Whales, perform a breach by travelling vertically upwards from depth and heading straight out of the water. Others, such as the Humpback Whale, travel close to the surface and parallel to it and then jerk upwards at full speed to perform a breach.
Whale breaches are often carried out in sessions. The longest sustained session of breaches ever recorded was by a Humpback Whale in the waters around the West Indies – 130 separate leaps were recorded in less than 90 minutes. As a whale repeatedly breaches, it typically becomes steadily more tired, and less of the body clears the water.
It is suggested that breaches are performed for social reasons, such as dominance or communication or they may be signals of courting or mating. The immense underwater disturbance is a sign to other whales and is to be taken seriously.
Whale Head Lunge
When a whale breaks the surface and falls forward instead of backward, the action is called a head lunge. However, if 90% of the body clears the water before the whale turns to land on its back or side. ‘belly flops’ also occur but are less common.
Whale Spy Hopping
Being curious creatures, whales often pop their heads out of the water and stay there for a while as if the were treading water. They raise up vertically and maintain this position while they observe the areas around them, possibly orientating themselves for migration or looking for boats.
A powerful whale can spyhop as much as half of its body out of the water.
Lobtailing is a display of the whales large pectoral fins. Once out of the water, the whale will either slap the water surface or wave it in the air. Some whales are positioned vertically when performing lobtailing, other lay horizontal in the water.
Lobtailing, like breaching, is a non-vocalised system of communication. It has been suggested that lobtailing is a sign of aggression or that whales do this to frighten fish, causing fish schools to tighten up making it easier for the whale to feed upon them.