Week 6: Humpback Behavior in Hawaii & Alaska
Humpback Whales are Acrobatic - Behaviors Seen Both in Hawaii and Alaska
Well known for their acrobatic surface displays, humpback whales are a favorite for whale-watchers around the world. The meaning behind these impressive behaviors, however, is still unclear. Because many of the behaviors are performed by both males and females, and on both the winter breeding grounds and summer feeding grounds, researchers believe that the interpretation of these behaviors may largely depend upon the context in which the behavior is observed. Some common behaviors seen in both locations include the following.
Breaching is often described as a behavioral exclamation mark! The whale leaps from the water, spinning in air before re-entry, once or many times in succession. At times, two or three associated whales may breach simultaneously. Why whales breach is unknown. Most likely breaching serves many different functions depending upon the context in which it occurs. For instance, breaching often signals a change in behavior or sometimes direction of travel, and is likely a form of communication.
Flippering (Pectoral Slap)
The whale raises one or both flippers into the air and slaps it (or them) down on the surface of the water, once or many times in succession. Why? It has been suggested that pectoral slapping may attract other whales to join a group and/or be a way that females may roll away from or toward male attention.
Tail Log (Tail Slap)
Whale extends its tail fluke above the water and slaps it, often forcibly, down on the surface.This can occur "right way up", with the whale slapping the ventral (underneath) side of the flukes on the water, or the reverse, with the whale belly-up slapping the top-side of the flukes on the water.This often, but not always, occurs many times in a row. As with the other behaviors, the meaning behind this behavior is unknown, but it has been speculated that it may be a way to ward off other whales, or to the contrary, to invite other whales to join a group.
Tail Throw (Peduncle Slap)
The whale throws the rear portion of its body from the water, striking the water forcefully.This behavior is often described as one of the more aggressive behaviors of humpback whales.
Whale lunges or leaps partially out of the water, striking the underside of the chin forcefully on the surface of the water. Head slapping behavior often occurs after a breaching sequence and the specific meaning is unknown.
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