Why Do Whales Breach?

Why Do Whales Breach

Why do whales breach for humans?

But why do humpback whales breach? – Until recently, most whale experts believed there wasn’t one reason. It’s kind of like asking, why do humans run? We run for play, exercise, to escape danger, etc. Among the reasons, scientists believed whales breached were for communication, a way to warn others of impending danger, as a way to stun prey, and as a sort of mating ritual competition between males. However, in November 2016, an article titled “Evidence for the functions of surface-active behaviors in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)” was published in the Marine Mammal Science journal. The authors of the study concluded, with some certainty, the main reason for breaching (and tail/pectoral slapping) is communication. Simply put in human terms, an acoustic sound like a drum travels further than the voice, which is why cultures once beat on drums to communicate from village to village. So while whales can sing beautifully, in order to contact other whales further away, they need to beat on the water to get the message out. As for the other reasons whales breach, while those listed above may be partially true, it never fully made sense to scientists why whales breached in Hawaii. While the humpbacks do mate here, they don’t eat. That’s right, they fast the entire time they’re in Hawaii.

Why do whales breach so close to boats?

Why Do Whales Breach? 7 Answers & Theories, Plus Spotting Tips

  • Whales might breach to communicate, prepare for a dive, or get rid of parasites, but these are only theories among biologists.
  • Whales breach at irregular intervals, but larger whales come to the surface about every 10-15 minutes.
  • Spot a breaching whale by searching for waterspouts, tail fins, spyhopping, and the signature breach when whale watching.
  1. 1 To communicate with far-off whales. Sound travels both farther and faster underwater, and when a whale leaps and slaps back into the water, it makes quite the sound. Whales might use this to their advantage to signal far-off groups of whales, especially when the waters are windy or choppy, and there’s more “background noise.”
    • Whales also communicate with other, nearby whales by their trademark “singing” and by slapping their fins. These can signal a number of things, like mating availability, greetings, play, the presence of food, or to warn of predators.
  2. 2 To prepare for a dive. Whales may jump out of the water in order to stock up on oxygen before swimming deeper into the ocean. Whales’ blood cells contain a protein called myoglobin, which carries oxygen. The physical activity involved in leaping out of the water might lead to greater amounts of myoglobin, which means more oxygen for the leaping whale, which means a deeper dive.
    • Whales breathe oxygen, and while they usually don’t leap out of the water to breathe (instead they merely poke their heads out), they may sometimes breach in order to quickly empty their lungs of water they accidentally inhaled.


  3. 3 To peek above the water. Whales don’t have the best eyesight, and things are especially limited underwater. Some biologists think whales may leap out of the water to get a better look at what’s going on above the surface–to spot land formations, boats, and other activity.
    • Some researchers speculate that whales breach more often near boats in order to get a better look at the activity on the surface.
  4. 4 To get rid of parasites or dead skin. Whales are massive (humpback whales, the largest whale species and most notable jumper, can weigh up to 80,000 pounds (36,000 kg)!), and they produce a similarly massive amount of force when they hit the surface of the water. That force could serve to knock loose any parasites or dead skin clinging to the whale.
    • Some people think whales might also breach to get rid of barnacles, but many whales use barnacles as armor for defense against predators and other whales.
  5. 5 To aid digestion. Biologists have recently suggested that leaping out of the water helps get food moving inside a whale. Humpback whales eat about 20,000 pounds (9,100 kg) of fish each day during feeding season, after all. It might be similar to taking a walk after a big meal.
  6. 6 To stun prey. All that weight coming down onto the water makes quite the shockwave below the surface, and whales might use this to confuse or slow down the schools of fish that they hunt.
    • Humpback whales are filter feeders, meaning they strain the ocean water through their “baleen plates,” leaving just the small krill or schooling fish behind to eat.
  7. 7 Because it’s fun! Breaching takes a huge amount of energy, and young whales are thought to breach more frequently than their older family members. Some biologists conclude that this could be because young whales have excess energy they need to burn off by playing, the same way human toddlers tire themselves out by playing.
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  1. Whales usually breach a few times per hour. Because biologists can’t say for sure why whales breach, and because they might breach for a number of reasons, they also can’t say exactly when or how often they do jump. However, whales will breach most often when they come to the surface for air–larger whales like humpbacks surface about every 10-15 minutes, and smaller whales might surface several times a minute.
    • Whales can stay under water for much longer than 10-15 minutes if they need to. Humpback whales can stay under for an hour, and sperm whales can stay under for about 90 minutes.
  1. 1 Look for waterspouts. Whales often blow water out of their spouts after they’ve been diving in order to replenish their oxygen. Keep an eye out for a jet of condensed water reaching about 12 feet (3.7 m) into the air.
  2. 2 Scan for spyhopping. Spyhopping is like a smaller version of breaching, and happens when a whale peeks its head above water to get a better look at its surroundings, and will often do so around boats. a pair of and see if you can spot a quick glimpse of whale’s dark head close to the surface.
  3. 3 Watch for diving. When a whale dives, it lifts its tail out of the water and exposes its flukes–the twin fins at the end of its tail–which helps the whale get a good angle to propel itself deep into the water. This is also called “fluking” and an easy marker when identifying whales.
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Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 4,844 times. : Why Do Whales Breach? 7 Answers & Theories, Plus Spotting Tips

Why do whales breach and tail slap?

There are a few reasons whales tail slap but the main reason is to warn off predation or over bearing males &/or females. It is a defensive action and depending upon the energy in the tail slap generally indicates what the communication is all about.

Is it common for whales to breach?

Breaching whales. – ( A ) A tagged humpback whale (NMFS permit #16111). ( B ) A tagged humpback calf (NMFS permit #14682). ( C ) A tagged minke whale (NMFS permit #14809). ( D ) An untagged Bryde’s whale breaching (credit K. Underhill, Simon’s Town Boat Company).

E ) A tagged gray whale falling back into the water (NMFS permit #16111). ( F ) An untagged sperm whale (permit #49/2010/DRA). ( G ) A tagged right whale (MMPA permit #775–1875). ( H ) An untagged blue whale partially emerging from the water while participating in a ‘racing behavior’ (NMFS permit #16111).

Not all species of large whales breach regularly, and the reasons for this remain unclear. Humpback whales, which can attain body masses greater than 45,000 kg ( Lockyer, 1976 ), are frequently observed breaching. The largest species of whales rarely breach: blue whales and sei whales almost never breach ( Whitehead, 1985b ), while fin whales breach rarely and frequent breaching may be confined to specific populations ( Marini et al., 1996 ).

Likewise, large male sperm whales breach very infrequently while the much smaller females are known to regularly breach ( Waters and Whitehead, 1990 ). In concert, these observations suggest that body size may limit breaching performance. One possibility is that the considerable expenditure needed for the largest of whales to accelerate out of their medium may represent too high an energetic cost.

Whitehead roughly estimated that during a breach, average sized humpback whales ( Whitehead, 1985a ) and female sperm whales ( Waters and Whitehead, 1990 ) expend 1% of their minimum daily basal metabolic requirements. However, little is known about the scaling of breaching energetics and if the cost of breaching increases with size.

  1. Alternatively, but not exclusively, body size may impose physical limitations on the swimming capabilities of the largest whales that do not allow them to attain the accelerations or speeds required to breach.
  2. Due to the different scaling trajectories of the propulsive surface areas (that generate lift and thrust) and body mass (that resists acceleration), increased body size should decrease accelerative performance ( Webb and De Buffrénil, 1990 ).

In this study we used whale-borne tags equipped with inertial sensors to quantify the kinematics of breaching and address the following questions: (1) What are the underwater trajectories and fluking patterns that different species of large whales use to perform breaches? (2) What are the energetic costs of breaching, and how do they scale with body size? And (3) Do energetic or physical constraints impose fundamental limits on the breaching behaviors of large whales? At the upper extremes of body size, the energetic cost of breaching may be prohibitively high.

Do whales really protect humans?

Orca whales are intelligent and social creatures – Orca whales are highly intelligent and social animals that live in complex societies with intricate relationships and communication patterns. They rely on cooperation and teamwork to hunt and survive, and they have been observed exhibiting a range of behaviors that suggest they have emotions and can feel pain.

Will whales protect humans?

While it isn’t common for whales to save humans, it is common for whales to save other creatures as they are altruistic towards other species. This article covers a video of a humpback saving a human from a tiger shark.

Why do whales not avoid ships?

May 4, 2015 As the largest animals in the ocean, blue whales have not evolved defensive behaviors. New research by Stanford biologist Jeremy Goldbogen suggests this might explain why the whales are so prone to ship collisions. Go to the web site to view the video.

For millions of years, blue whales have cruised the world’s oceans with hardly a care, their sheer size making them largely free from predator attacks. The downside to being the largest animals in history, however, is that the species was never pressured to evolve defensive behaviors. Now, the first direct observations of blue whales attempting to avoid cargo ships suggest that this lack of an evasive response might make the whales particularly susceptible to deadly collisions.

“It’s not part of their evolutionary history to have cargo ships killing them, so they haven’t developed behavioral responses to this threat,” said Jeremy Goldbogen, an assistant professor of biology at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, and the senior author on the study.

  • They simply have no compelling response to avoiding these dangerous ships.” The study, published in Endangered Species Research, could help improve methods to protect blue whales and other marine animals from deadly ship collisions.
  • Collisions with ships are a major threat to whales and pose a significant threat to the recovery of some endangered populations.

Efforts to reduce collisions have mostly involved placing speed limits on ships passing through busy whale habitats or rerouting shipping channels around these areas altogether. However, a critical piece of information needed to make these decisions and evaluate their effectiveness is currently lacking: direct knowledge of how whales behave once they sense an oncoming ship.

To fill that gap, Goldbogen and colleagues from several academic institutions headed to Long Beach, California, home of one of the busiest shipping ports in the world and also a hotspot for blue whales. Just a few miles offshore, the continental shelf drops off and there is a huge upwelling of nutrients that attract krill, a favorite food of blue whales.

The scientists used suction cups to adhere GPS (global positioning system) and dive-logging units to blue whales, and then tracked their movements for 24-hour periods. The scientists then cross-referenced this data with boat traffic, including the tonnage and speeds of ships passing through the area.

  1. In this first run of the experiment, the researchers observed 20 ship passages with nine individual whales, at distances ranging from 60 meters to more than 3 kilometers.
  2. In each of these instances, the whales exhibited behavior similar to the “startle response” that scientists observe during the tagging process, in which the whales essentially “play dead.” “Blue whales have a subtle and not very convincing ability to get out of the way of oncoming ships,” said Goldbogen.

“Instead of diving, where the animal kicks tail up and goes down vertically, they just sink horizontally. This results in a slow dive and leaves them susceptible to ship strikes.” A whale must dive 30 meters below the surface to escape the suction created by a ship’s propeller.

  • In the study, the whales sank at about a half a meter per second and showed no evidence for swimming laterally to avoid the ship.
  • In most cases, this was barely fast enough to get out of the ship’s way.
  • This is just the first step in figuring out the behavior of whales in the context of heavy shipping traffic, Goldbogen said.

The research team is already planning a second round of tests in which the GPS units will remain attached to the whales for several weeks, and will extend to species such as humpback whales. With more data about both whale behavior and the frequency of near misses, Goldbogen hopes to be able to make a compelling recommendation to pleasure boaters and the shipping industry for how to minimize the risk of collisions.

Do barnacles hurt whales?

Gray whales are more heavily infested with a greater variety of parasites and hitchhikers than any other cetacean.

Hitchhikers: Free Rides on Gray Whales


Look at those barnacles! Photo

Gray whales are more heavily infested with a greater variety of parasites and hitchhikers than any other cetacean. Imagine carrying a load of hitchhikers on your back that can weigh several hundred pounds! Gray whales do this all their lives. Who’s riding, and why? Big Batches of Barnacles Those patchy white spots you see on gray whales are barnacles.

Grays carry heavy loads of these freeloaders. The barnacles are just along for the ride. They don’t harm the whales or feed on the whales, like true parasites do. Barnacles don’t serve any obvious advantage to the whales, but they give helpful lice a place to hang onto the whale without getting washed away by water.

Barnacles find the slow-swimming gray whale a good ride through nutrient-rich ocean waters.


As larvae, the whale barnacles swim freely in the ocean. But they time their reproduction so the larvae are swimming in the water of the nursery lagoons when the baby whales are born. Then the larvae jump aboard the whales arriving in the lagoons-as well as the newborn calves—to start their lives as hitchhikers.

  • The most common barnacles on gray whales are host-specific, which means they occur on no other whales.
  • One type of barnacle, Cryptolepas rhachianecti, attaches only to gray whales.
  • Once this type of small crustacean has settled on “its own” gray, the barnacle spends its whole life hanging onto that whale.

Life is good if you’re a barnacle. Snug inside their hard limestone shells, the barnacles stick out feather feet to comb the sea and capture plankton and other food for themselves as the whales swim slowly along. As the young whales grow, the barnacle clusters grow too.

  1. Gradually the barnacles form large, solid white colonies.
  2. The colonies appear as whitish patches, especially on the whale’s head, flippers, back and tail flukes.
  3. Whale biologists look at the pattern of barnacle clusters in order to tell individual grays apart.
  4. This is possible because no two barnacle clusters, like no two human’s fingerprints, are alike! (See more about barnacles,) A Look at Lice Whale lice are another type of whale hitchhiker.

Unlike barnacles, lice are true parasites. They feed on gray whale skin and damaged tissue. The lice gather around open wounds or scars. Whale lice may spread from mother whales to their calves during birth, nursing, or other bodily contact. Up to 1000 of these parasites have been found on a single gray whale.

  • Luckily for the lice-infested whales, other creatures go after the lice.
  • Topsmelt are silvery fish that school in the breeding lagoons.
  • Normally they feed on marine plants, tiny shrimps and other miniscule creatures of the lagoons.
  • But when the whales are around, the topsmelt dine on the whales.
  • How? Schools of these small fish pick at the barnacles and whale lice crusting up a whale’s skin.

Topsmelt groom whales in the calving lagoons. By ridding the whales of some of their parasites and old, flaky skin, topsmelt may be helping to cut down the resistance, or drag, that grays create as their huge bodies move through the water. The whales have a smoother ride and the topsmelt groomers get protein-rich food.

Why do you think gray whales have more hitchhikers than any other whales? (Look for clues in the text above.) How would you describe the connection between the whale, the whale lice and the barnacles? If you were a gray whale biologist trying to figure out which whale is which,you’d have to be able to spot differences in the unique clusters of barnacles on each whale. Give it a try! gives you step-by-step help, with lots of photos for practice in the lesson:

: Gray whales are more heavily infested with a greater variety of parasites and hitchhikers than any other cetacean.

Do whales ever accidentally hit boats?

Bad Company – In 2009, a custom made yacht for the team “Bad Company” competing in a high-stakes fishing tournament collided with a breaching whale causing major damage to the vessel. The captain, Steve Lassley, said that the whale appeared to be jumping toward the vessel at the time of the impact.

Why do whales jump out of water and scream?

To get some air? – No! But, extra points for remembering that whales are mammals and that they need air to breathe. On average, adult humpbacks surface every 7-15 minutes. Calves must swim up to the surface every 3-5 minutes to catch some air to breathe. i Because it is fun? No! But, you have a f in-tastic point. It does look like the whales are having a fun time. Breaching is when most or all of the whale’s body leaves the water. Humpback whales can use their powerful fluke (or tail fin) to launch themselves out of the water. And while many other whale species breach, humpback whales seem to breach more frequently. i To teach their kids how to jump? No! But did you know that humpback mothers are truly wonderful? We know that a baby is dependent upon its mother for basic survival—food, shelter and in the case of humpback whales—breathing! Mom humpback whales bring their baby calves to the surface right after birth so they can take their first breath of air. i To communicate with other humpback whales? Yes! Scientists suspect humpback whales are breaching and slapping their fins and flukes on the surface as a way of communicating. It is believed that all slapping creates sounds used to send messages to other whales, and the big splashes are for sending messages long-distances. i So, there you have it—humpback whales breach in order to communicate with other whales, who may be far away. The bigger the splash, the further the sound will be able to travel underwater. Staying connected—even if we are socially distancing—is whale-y important, now more than ever.

Do dolphins breach like whales?

Teacher Script – Slide 1. Many of you have probably seen dolphins or other toothed whales performing at places like Marineland or SeaWorld, The things that these animals do on command in captivity are usually based on behaviors that the animals perform naturally in the wild.

Today we are going to learn about some whale and dolphin behaviors. Slide 2. Why do we care about whale behavior? Because whales and dolphins spend so much time underwater, often in very deep water, it is a challenge for biologists to study them. Although whales make sounds, we cannot tell what those sounds mean.

However, when these animals are at the surface, we can make observations about what they are doing, and can try to learn more about them based on their behaviors. Slide 3. Let’s read these behaviors together, In this lesson, we will learn more about these common dolphin behaviors.

Slide 4. Whales and dolphins also have many different types of feeding behaviors, which will be covered in a different lesson. However, I want to point out this commonly seen behavior called begging. Begging is a learned behavior of dolphins and other marine mammals that have received food from humans.

Feeding or attempting to feed a dolphin or other marine mammal is illegal. Slide 5. Dolphin species are often seen moving very slowly at the surface of the water in small groups. This behavior is called resting. It is very important to give these dolphins lots of space, because they need to rest in order to have enough energy to feed, mate, and nurse their young.

Some dolphin species such as spinner dolphins rest during the day. Slide 6. Groups of dolphins are often seen moving quickly in the same direction. This behavior is called traveling. Slide 7. Our next behavior is called breaching. Breaching is a dramatic behavior. During breaching, a dolphin or whale jumps headfirst out of the water.

While in the air they may rotate so they land on their side, creating a HUGE splash! Both baleen and toothed whales do this. Scientists are not sure why whales and dolphins breach. Possibilities include communicating with other animals, stunning prey so they are easier to catch, or showing that they feel threatened by something.

  1. Did you recognize the type of whale in this video? Slide 8.
  2. Let’s start by talking about bow riding.
  3. Many different types of dolphins can be seen bow or wake riding.
  4. Note that baleen whales do not bow ride.
  5. Dolphins ride the waves created in front of or behind boats and may do this for minutes to hours.

It may look like the boat will run over the dolphins, but scientists think dolphins do this to save energy. Bow riding may be similar to “body surfing,” which is surfing without a surfboard. This is often a fun game for humans to play at the beach. Keep in mind that people should never drive a boat towards dolphins in order to try to get them to bow ride.

  1. This can be dangerous to the dolphins.
  2. Let’s watch some dolphins bow riding in this clip. Slide 9.
  3. Dolphins may display certain behaviors when they feel threatened or when people get too close.
  4. These can include tail slapping or breaching, shielding calves from people or vessels, and quick retreats.
  5. Scientists call these “disturbance behaviors.” Slide 10.

Dolphins are social animals, but they need lots of space. View them from a distance. It is difficult to tell the difference between social behaviors and disturbance behaviors. Slide 11. Some whale behaviors have funny names. Let’s read these together. Slide 12.

  1. Let’s watch a video of whales breaching,
  2. Breaching may be a way for whales to scratch their backs.
  3. Can you tell me anything about this whale? Slide 13.
  4. This next video shows one of the reasons why people should stay far away from whales.
  5. Getting too close could be dangerous for both the people and the whale.

This is a news report about a young right whale that breached and landed on a sailboat. Slide 14. Our next behavior is called flippering or flipper slapping. Baleen whales do this by rolling on their side and hitting one flipper on the surface of the water.

Scientists do not know why whales do this. Slide 15. When lobtailing, a whale positions its body so that its head is down and the tail flukes are above the surface of the water. The whale repeatedly hits the surface of the water with the big flukes. The sound can be very loud and may travel for some distance.

Scientists do not know why whales display this behavior. Captive groups of dolphins that are upset or annoyed display a similar behavior called tail slapping. If you have visited Marineland, SeaWorld, or other marine parks, you may have seen whales or dolphins trained to “wave goodbye” by standing on their heads and waving their tail flukes at the crowd.

  1. This is an example of how trainers are able to modify a natural behavior and train whales and dolphins to perform the movement on command. Slide 16.
  2. Logging is different from the behaviors seen so far.
  3. The term describes a behavior in which whales stay very still at the water’s surface, moving mainly to take a breath.

This behavior may be part of resting after a deep dive. It is possible that whales sleep in this position. Whales can be very hard to see in this position. Logging whales are at risk of being hit by boats or ships. Slide 17. Spouting refers to the spray of fine water droplets that forms when a whale exhales, or breathes out.

In colder weather, the breath is more visible. The breath is made of warm air and water droplets. The spout of different types of whales looks quite different. Experienced observers can identify a species of whale from the appearance of the spout on the horizon. Slide 18. Here we have a blue whale spouting.

Imagine if you were a whale biologist and you were trying to identify the type of whale you were seeing based only on its spouting. That might be a bit of a challenge! Remember that some whales can hold their breath for a long time, so you might easily have to wait ten minutes to see a single whale breathe twice—assuming it doesn’t swim too far away for you to see it during that time! Slide 19.

When “spy hopping,” a whale pops its head out of the water and looks around. To do this, the whale positions itself in the water column with its head up and tail down. It lifts its body above the surface so it can see what may be happening nearby. In this video, we will see a young gray whale spy hopping off the coast of California.

Slide 20. Learning about animals that live their entire lives in the ocean can be difficult. Generally, most behaviors that we can see are only those that are visible from the surface. There is much more going on under the water! This lesson has shown you commonly observed whale and dolphin behaviors.

How do whales sleep?

“How do whales sleep?” is a question our whale watching guides often get during tours, and it is an understandable one – how can a mammal that needs air to survive sleep underwater? – The short answer is that they are conscious breathers and therefore sleep in different ways than land mammals (like us).

  1. We are unconscious breathers, so our bodies automatically breathe to take in air even when we are sleeping.
  2. Cetaceans are conscious breathers, meaning that they have to make a decision on when to breathe.
  3. This might seem complicated for an animal that spends all of its time in the water, but whales and dolphins are experts and are well-adapted to spending their entire lives in the ocean.

All whales and dolphins sleep, but different species have different methods and requirements for sleep and rest. The length of sleep can vary massively between species. There are some common methods and positions for sleeping. These include simply resting quietly in the water, either horizontally or vertically, or sleeping while slowly swimming next to another member of their pod or in small groups.

Dolphins in captivity have been recorded sleeping for brief increments of time at the bottom of their tanks. Humpback whales are often found resting motionless on the surface of the ocean while sleeping. They cannot sleep for much longer than 30 minutes without risking lowering their body temperature due to inactivity.

A very common assumption is that whales sleep with half of their brain ‘shut off’ and one eye closed. The theory is that they do this to maintain an awareness of potential predators or threats that may approach. It is thought that this also allows them to remember to breath at the right time.

This behavior has been reported in many different types of dolphins, who can sleep for 2-4 hours at a time. Some dolphins sleep for roughly 33% of the day, while the larger sperm whale is thought to sleep for only 7% of the day! Boating encounters with sperm whale pods suggest that they enter a deeper sleep than dolphins.

In 2008, a small group of scientists working off the coast of Chile happened to encounter a pod of sleeping sperm whales. They were working to record sperm whale calls and were below deck with the engine off when they discovered that they had drifted right into a pod of sleeping sperm whales.

It was not until the boat accidentally nudged one of the sperm whales that they noticed the presence of the boat. This is suggestive of a deeper sleep with less acute awareness. The sperm whales swam off and resumed their sleeping. It is notoriously difficult to study cetacean sleeping behavior in the wild.

There is still much to learn about the sleep requirements and patterns of whales and dolphins. We have encountered sleeping whales before on our Whale Watching tours, though it is not common. One one of our morning tours in April, 2015, our boat came across a sleeping humpback. Why Do Whales Breach A pod of sleeping sperm whales. Image: © Franco Banfi/Solent News & Photo Agency : How Do Whales Sleep? – Special Tours

How long can whales go without breaching?

The longest ever recorded dive by a whale was made by a Cuvier’s beaked whale. It lasted 222 minutes and broke the record for diving mammals. Other whales can also hold their breath for a very long time. A sperm whale can spend around 90 minutes hunting underwater before it has to come back to the surface to breathe.

  • In 1969, a male sperm whale was killed off the coast of South Africa after surfacing from a dive lasting 117 minutes.
  • Whales’ lungs are particularly efficient at taking up oxygen when they breathe air in and out through their blowholes at the water’s surface.
  • Special adaptations help them hold their breath for a long time.

Discover the secrets of the deepest-diving whales, Next question: How can whales hold their breath for so long?

Is it rare to see a whale?

How many whales will we see? Despite what ANY whale watch company may claim, you can never really guarantee how many whales will be seen, or even if any whales will be seen, when you go whale watching. You can guarantee a free return ticket (aka “rain check”) if you don’t see a whale, but you can’t guarantee the whales themselves.

  • That being said, the extremely high productivity of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary area means that whales are usually here, often in good numbers, and that’s why we have seen whales (at least 1) on over 99% of our trips since 1983.
  • In fact w sometimes we go years without “skunking” (a “skunk” is whale watch industry slang for a trip in which no whales were seen).

Most of the time we “skunk” it is due to fog rather than lack of whales (it’s hard to find whales when you can’t see!) So while it is impossible to say for certain how many individual whales you will see when you go whale watching the most likely answer to this question is: probably between 1 and 50.

  • Pretty vague, huh? Well, that’s because these animals are WILD.
  • They are not captive creatures in the confines of a zoo or aquarium, and they certainly don’t perform tricks for our amusement.
  • These whales are wild animals that come here to feed in the biologically rich waters of the Gulf of Maine.
  • Their abundance is determined by the amount of food available to them.

At times (many times, actually) there are so many whales in the area that we can’t possibly visit with them all in the limited time we have on the water. But at other times it takes cooperation between all whale watch boats in the area to find just one or two whales.

Well, once again it is impossible to say what time of day, or even what time of the year is best to go whale watching because the answer to that question also changes based on the amount of food (ie small schooling fish) available to the whales.But before we get too hung-up on the total number of whales we might see, consider these questions: If whales had not been hunted to the brink of extinction would they be the iconic symbol of endangered wildlife that they are today? Would it still be so exciting to see a whale if seeing one was commonplace?

I suspect not. Remember that these whales are endangered! Their numbers are only a small fraction of what existed in the pre-whaling era. One of the most exciting things about seeing a wild whale is simply encountering an animal which still teeters on the brink of extinction.

Do scientists know why whales breach?

Consider some responses about humpback whales by a few Whale SENSE Naturalists from Gastineau Guiding in Juneau, Alaska: – Why Do Whales Breach By Aleta Walther, Scientists don’t really know why whales breach, but some speculate that it is a form of communication, others think it might be a way to dislodge barnacles, maybe they are looking around, but I like to believe they breach because it’s fun. Why Do Whales Breach By Annette Smith, From my observations, there seems to be a ritual when bubble netting groups break up. I also think it is a startle response sometimes. I have also seen it in a frantic way along with tail lobbing when killer whales are in the area. Why Do Whales Breach By Scott Ranger, The simple answer is, we don’t know! I hear lots of reasons and here is what I think about them. If animals expend energy only when necessary, perhaps breaching energy could help understand this behavior. Breaching requires a great deal of energy in a spurt of activity.

Whitehead 1 calculated this for humpback and sperm whales at 617 kcal. Bursts of breaching are common and burn a lot of calories. Looking above the water, An upside down view of seconds? Their vision is limited, and their spherical lenses function far more efficiently in water than in air. Sloughing barnacles,

How can the force of a 45 ton whale dislodge a barnacle from its skin as they burrow and glue themselves into the skin? A study in Ecuadoran waters demonstrated that some do come off with intense activity. Sloughing skin, A Humpback whale sloughs small sections of skin continuously, likely an important role in maintaining healthy skin.

  1. Could breaching aid in that shedding process? Social interactions.
  2. This is a broad category! Most of the breaching that I have seen has been associated with bubble net feeding groups, but males will also breach during competitive groups in the tropical mating grounds! Therefore, it is difficult to generalize why a whale would breach in all social interactions! Communication.

Landing from a breach makes a loud noise. I’m sure whales a long distance away can hear it through the water. Just what would the splash communicate? Play behavior. This is an enticing and difficult conclusion. As intelligent animals, wouldn’t this be an appropriate conclusion? Anthropomorphism is my worry.

  • Because we humans play, do we conclude they play? Just this summer I was out with my four year old granddaughter and we watched whale 1879, better known as Sasha with her new frisky calf.
  • Watching the calf do many variations of tail slaps, waves, throws, Mabel proclaims “she’s having fun!” Mabel just may be right.

How do we determine and measure play?

Whitehead, H.1985. Humpback whale breaching. Investigations on Cetacea. Berne, Switzerland.17: 117-155

Read more answers to Frequently Asked Questions here ! Header photo courtesy of Lilli Mack Ali Schuler Ali has been working with the Whale SENSE Program since 2018. She has worked as a whale watch naturalist in both Alaska and Hawaii, and spent her master’s researching the effects of whale watching on humpback whales and conservation.

Do whales like being touched?

Thank you for googling this rather than going and grabbing a dolphin, (which is a whale ) their skin is incredibly sensitive. – “What do whales feel like?” Is an awesome question, first asked me by a super keen 7-year-old – but suddenly everyone wanted the answer.

Different whales feel different to touch – some are covered in barnacles and scars, whale lice and seaweed! But the normal skin feels incredibly smooth – I once read it described as a peeled hard-boiled egg – a description that made me laugh but is actually pretty accurate. They are incredibly muscular and covered in a thick layer of blubber – fat.

So maybe feel your thigh muscle after you’ve shaved your leg! Rubbery is another word used to describe it – but without the grip of rubber – lubericated rubber might be a better shout. So what do whales feel like? Smooth, strong, rubbery, slick, peeled boiled egg. Why Do Whales Breach Were you planning on cuddling this humpback? Please don’t. We hope that answered your question, ‘what do whales feel like?’ however we would like to remind you that whales are wild animals and you shouldn’t touch them – and if they are dolphins in captivity that have become used to human touch they are still wild animals in captivity and not tame animals like a dog.

Will a dolphin save you from drowning?

Why Do Whales Breach Human brain vs. Dolphin Brain Humans have been interacting with dolphins for as long as we have known of their existence. Analysis of dolphins has helped us to study and research our origins in the animal kingdom. There are several similarities between dolphins and humans that are not even found between humans and apes.

  • There are many things to suggest that the dolphin is related to land mammals.
  • The fact that they need to get air from the surface of the water is the most obvious sign.
  • In the beginning, human interaction was mainly limited to hunting dolphins, but luckily as we learned of their intelligence and capacity for relationships, things began to change.

There are now many positive stories of the good relationships between dolphins and humans, including the way this almost totally non-aggressive creature not only likes interacting with humans but sometimes saves them. An excellent example is the work of the US Navy and how they use intelligent, trained dolphins to work as part of their naval fleet on activities such as finding land-mines.

Dolphin-Assisted Therapy is another example. Originating in 1978 by Dr. David Nathanson, Dolphin-Assisted Therapy (DAT) has been used as a therapeutic approach to increase speech and motor skills in patients who have been diagnosed with developmental, physical, and/or emotional disabilities, such as mental retardation, Down Syndrome, and autism.

It is suggested that the unconditional love and support a dolphin offers can benefit children and also mentally ill patients by helping them learn to develop trust. Many believe that dolphins have human-like emotions and the compassion that they’re able to give increases self-confidence, social skills, and academic achievement in children and others who may be lacking these skills.

  • Since its’ introduction, Dolphin-Assisted Therapy has become a very controversial topic in the medical world.
  • Theories such as the one by Nathanson suggest that Dolphin-Assisted Therapy is simply a program that works to modify behavior by rewarding the patient with dolphin swims for performing a desired function.

Scientists, however, are considering the possibility that the sonar of the dolphins can trigger the healing process by increasing T-cells and endorphins. In some cases, scientists have suggested that dolphins can target areas in the human body with their sonar and repair damaged tissue. Why Do Whales Breach No one knows why, but dolphins have been saving people for thousands of years. Dating back to Ancient Greece, there are dozens of claims of dolphins rescuing people from sharks, helping drowning sailors, and guiding boats through rough waters. But it’s not just ancient mythology – it’s still happening all the time.

Although wild dolphins face many natural dangers within the deep expanse of the ocean, man is their biggest threat. As Swim With The Dolphin (SWTD) programs and Dolphin-Assisted Therapy (DAT) continue to gain popularity, we see more dolphins held in captivity than ever before. While some scientists claim that dolphin research is progressing in great strides, critics prove that holding wild dolphins captive is cruel and should be stopped.

There are numerous private and public organisations that work tirelessly for the conservation of all species of dolphins. Why Do Whales Breach Keeping wild dolphins imprisoned in captivity for the frivolous pleasure of a paying public who wishes to swim with them and touch them is animal cruelty. Worst yet are the atrocities against wild dolphins happening world-wide – like the cruel slaughter of thousands of dolphins in Japan, Solomon Island, Peru, and many other places!

Are whales safe to touch?

Get Ready for Your Tropical Adventure With the Whales! – There are plenty of ways you can get close to the whales while creating and capturing quality moments. Even though you may want to get close to the whales, never try touching them. This can create several risks for you and the whale.

Has a orca ever saved a human?

Ts’aahl Lllnagaay totem by Garner Moody By Marc Snelling Oral history of orcas saving humans stretches out for a millennia. Haida, Tlingit, Nuxalk and other peoples of the Northwest have kept stories and names alive for many generations. For example, Natsilane being saved from attempted drowning by his jealous brothers is a Haida and Tlingit story.

  1. Nuxalk stories of Ista and Patsallht recount traveling with killer whales and how they got their black color.
  2. ‘aa gwaay, the five finned killer whale of legends is carved on totem poles such as Ts’aahl Llnagaay at the Haida Heritage Center in Kay Llnagaay (Skidegate BC).
  3. Haida Gwaii and the surrounding island and coastal lands of British Columbia (BC) and Alaska support rich and diverse life.

Stunning traditional art created by the peoples of this land is prized the world over, recognized for its expression of animal and human spirit. A fact recently noted by Lori Saldaña’s in her North Pacific dispatch, No animal figures as heavily in these traditional stories and art as orca. Chief of the Undersea World – Bill Reid sculpture ‘ Chief of the Undersea World ‘ is a sculpture created by one of Canada”s best known Haida artists, Bill Reid, He was the son of a Scottish-German father and mother from T’aanuu in Haida Gwaii. (Queen Charlotte Islands BC) The original is housed at the Vancouver Aquarium and the above pictured plaster cast features prominently at the Museum of Civilization in the nation’s capital. Orca – by Todd Jason Baker The stories of these nations speak of two times. One ancient – where the dividing line between human and animals was not clear – and today. The stories of orca and first man are intertwined. The languages that these stories have been told in for generations have their own sound and rhythm.

  1. Sgaan is the Haida word for orca, syut in Nuxalk.
  2. Both languages are currently being kept alive by small groups of elders and are in danger of becoming extinct.
  3. The number of fluent Nuxalk speakers was recently estimated at fifteen elders,
  4. First Voices is a website that has been created to help communities document and preserve this language legacy.

Oral history and archaeology show that the Haida and their ancestors have lived in this region for well over ten thousand years. A new generation faced with an increasingly unbalanced earth has begun to look at these stories from an older time with a new eye.

The dominant view of today is short-term. The ancient stories all speak of karma-like concepts and how every action has a consequence, even if it is one felt hundreds of years later. The effects the extraction industries have had on this land over the past few generations only underline the morals of these stories.

Increasingly people are seeing the value and message preserved in ancient wisdom and the old ways, Natsilane was an intelligent, pleasant and skillful young warrior in a time before killer whales. He was an able sea lion hunter and spear carver who took as wife the daughter of a local chief.

  • His traits made him an ideal choice for chief of his people.
  • A fact that made his brothers-in-law extremely jealous.
  • So jealous they plotted to drown him and took him out to sea fishing – further from shore than they had ever been.
  • His brothers threw Natsilane overboard and paddled away.
  • Left to drown, he is found by sea otter, who floats Natsilane to an island where he is able to settle.

There Natsilane carves a totem of a large black fish, grateful for his life being spared. He leaves this totem at the water’s edge. When he returns to shore the next day the carving is gone, and in the water is Blackfish, the first killer whale. Blackfish guides Natsilane back to his home, where he finds his brothers out fishing in their boat.

  1. Natsilane asks Blackfish to destroy their boat, which it does.
  2. Natsilane orders that from then on Blackfish is never to harm humans again.
  3. Furthermore Blackfish is to help any humans in trouble at sea.
  4. Natsilane then returns to his village and becomes a legendary chief.
  5. Some have claimed ot have seen Natsilane riding on the backs of two great black fish.

Interpretation and telling of the story varies from family to family. The ending which may sound harsh, is in reality a happy ending. The moral of the story is that nature and good-spirited humans working together can defeat evil-spirited humans. Ista is a traditional story of first woman and how she came to earth.

In telling the story of Ista, Nuxalk people remember who they are and where they come from, their identity as Nuxalkmc. Traditional family origin stories are called Smayusta in Nuxalk. Graciously they have shared their traditional stories, which enrich people’s of other nations who would read and respect them.

Pastsallht, First Born, thought he was alone on Earth. He roamed the land and encountered the Sisawk people, who wore headdresses. Ashamed he was not a member of the Sisawk, Patsallht experienced jealousy, and so he continued his journey. At the water’s edge he met a group of people in a boat, and asked if they would give him a ride. Fishbourne Roman Palace – Chichester UK Patshallt felt big waves hitting the boat and came to realize that the ‘people’ he was traveling with were in fact orcas. They traveled to Whannock, but the weather was so rough that the boat capsized. First Born fixed the holes in the boat with pitch from the trees, burning it over a fire.

  • That is why killer whales are black today.
  • These memories are preserved today in song and dance as well as place names.
  • Nuxalknalus (King Island) is an island about thirty miles southeast of Bella Coola BC.
  • A creek on this island is known to the Nuxalk people as ISTA – a former village site and place of origin of the peoples.

In 1995 and 1997, Nuxalk people were arrested for protecting this area’s old growth forests from clear-cut logging. Their land has never been ceded and no treaty is in place, yet multinational logging corporations have clearcut on the island. The strength in spirit of these activists can be linked to the memory of their Smayustas – their origin stories.

  • Europeans also share a similar history.
  • Numerous Greek myths include dolphins saving humans.
  • People alive today talk about being saved from shark attacks by orcas.
  • The species ” orcinus orca ” is actually a member of the dolphin family.
  • One of the six largest dolphin family members are commonly called ‘whales’ for their size, a group also known as “blackfish”.

A man riding a dolphin is also a common Roman theme. This detailed mosaic of a man riding a dolphin is from a first century Roman villa in southern England. Ganga riding the Ganges river dolphin. Still other cultures recognize the dolphin as a friend to humans. In Hindu mythology the goddess Ganga rides a dolphin in the Ganges River. The Ganges River dolphin or ‘South Asian river dolphin’ ( Platanista gangetica ) is an endangered freshwater dolphin.

Ganga is honored in ceremony for good fortune and washing away sin. The actions that create sin are recognized as negative karma in Hinduism. Violating morals and ethics bring about negative consequences – a theme also present in the stories of the first people’s of the Northwest. While stories of orca helping people are numerous, they are built to kill prey much larger than humans.

A male orca weighs on average ten thousand pounds. Their place atop the ocean food chain has led to them being called “killer whales”. Orcas were first placed in captivity by humans in the sixties. The first captured orca killed itself by running into the walls of it’s tank during it’s first day in captivity.

Since the seventies dozens of reports of captive orcas attacking humans have made news. In our current decade instances of orcas killing humans have brought attention to the morality of keeping ‘The Chief of the Undersea World” captive. The killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum on February 24th, 2010 and the 2013 movie Blackfish have awakened much discussion on orca captivity.

Her death came two months after trainer Alexis Martinez was killed by Keto an orca held at Loro Parque in Spain. Tilikum was previously implicated in the death of Keltie Byrne in 1991, and Daniel Dukes in 1999. Tanks to hold captive orcas have been built in eleven locations in the world.

Three of them owned by the SeaWorld chain of San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando. Ocean makes up over seventy percent of the earth’s surface. Orcas are found in every part of it, from the frigid arctic and Antarctic to the warm tropics. The natural human footprint by comparison is twenty five percent of the earth’s surface.

US law states two fully-grown killer whales can share a tank forty eight feet in diameter and twelve feet deep. A full grown orca is approximately twenty-four feet long. Using the ancient stories of all nations as a guide it is clear to many that we need to treat orcas better.

  • Not just for their sake, but for our own karma.
  • These stories also tell us that living in harmony with nature is essential to our long-term survival as humans.
  • These creatures are more intelligent than many realize and have more to teach us then jumping for food and performing for a crowd.
  • Increasingly, people from all over the world are motivated to protect the blackfish.

As activists stand up for the respect of animals, the orca is a strong inspiration. Are they not still trying to save us? Marc Snelling is not a member of the nations mentioned in this story and encourages readers to hear the stories of these nations from their own members.

Why do orcas like humans?

A more scientific explanation might be that we’re simply not tasty enough to be included on the killer whales’ menu. Orcas, it turns out, have picky palates. The Southern Resident Killer Whales of Puget Sound dine on only the fattest Chinook salmon, even if it means allowing an entire school of skinnier salmon to swim by.

Transient orcas, which have a broader diet, have shown similar selective behavior, in one case killing a gray whale but eating only its tongue. A third possible reason is that we don’t resemble any food source killer whales typically depend on. There have reportedly been incidents where an orca attempted to hunt a human, but broke off the hunt immediately upon realizing it wasn’t a sea lion.

Okay, so we’ve established that killer whales are pretty darned smart – they have a culture with specific behaviors, a picky diet, and they know that we don’t taste very good. Still, humans pump toxins into their water, we bombard them with noise, and sometimes we kidnap their babies and put them in aquariums.

Orcas have a pretty good reason to hate us, perhaps even enough to want to extract revenge, yet they don’t. The answer here might be friendship. There are many cases where nomadic killer whales have gravitated to humans, bonding with them and playing games. Trainers at places like Sea World say very little goes into orca training.

The whales seem to understand people, and are eager to cooperate and create bonds. In fact, the only apparent instances of orcas attacking people have happened at aquatic parks, where the whales have killed trainers. Many experts think these attacks are not malicious, rather a case of play getting out of hand.

Howard Garrett of the Orca Network disagrees. He argues the attacks are deliberate, though not in cold blood. Cut off from their pods, confined in small concrete tanks, and hand fed instead of being allowed to hunt, Garrett thinks the pressures build causing the orcas to occasionally lash out. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s clear that in the wild, orcas seem to have a pretty universal rule: don’t attack humans.

The reason would appear to be both biological and cultural. Killer whales have been around about 11 million years. Compared to them, we are a relatively new species on the planet. Physically we’re no match for this apex predator, but they’ve apparently deemed us worthy of coexistence.

Do whales have empathy?

The discovery of spindle cells in the brains of some whale and dolphin species provides good supporting evidence that these species may be capable of experiencing complex emotions such as empathy and indeed that this emotion may provide an important evolutionary advantage for these highly social species.

Do whales like being touched by humans?

5.You could be stressing it out – Swimming with whales or touching them disrupts their natural behavior. This can cause large amounts of stress in certain whales, potentially putting the diver in danger. Some whales experience less stress or are more used to humans. However it is safest to keep your distance from this marine mammals and never to touch it. Whale pokes its head out of the water in Costa Rica Remember, you’re only a guest in their home. Think about it this way, if the tables were turned: How would you feel if a group of strangers hovered around you while you ate lunch or hung out with your friends? Fr all thѕ reasons, just nj th lѕur f watching the wndrѕ f th ѕ! And dn’t hѕitt to tk beautiful pictures.

Why do whales not harm humans?

Why Do Whales Breach A killer whale ( Orcinus orca ) jumps from the water near Canada’s Saturna Island. | Credit: Miles Ritter/Flickr Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from “The Killer Whale Who Changed the World” by journalist and filmmaker Mark Leiren-Young. The book opens with the description of a 1964 killer whale hunt near Saturna Island (one of Canada’s Gulf Islands located about 10 miles off the Washington State coastline).

Leading the hunt are Samuel Burich, a sculptor hired by the Vancouver Aquarium to recreate a full-size killer whale, and Josef Bauer, a commercial fisherman. The small killer whale being held aloft in the water off Saturna isn’t breathing, but the two larger whales holding it on the surface, waiting for a puff from their pod-mate’s blowhole, aren’t prepared to surrender.

For killer whales, breathing is not an automatic act. If an orca is not conscious, it won’t inhale, and it needs to be on the surface to breathe. A killer can hold its breath underwater for about fifteen minutes—long enough to escape almost any attempt by a human to harass it—but an unconscious whale won’t live long.

And if this whale regains its senses underwater and gasps for air, it may choke and drown before it can reach the surface. As shock sets in and consciousness fades, Burich’s victim is drowning. It is about five years old. That means one of the whales attempting to save it is probably its panicked mother or grandmother.

The two larger whales consider their injured pod-mate. Is it already dead? That doesn’t matter. A mother orca in mourning may hold her dead calf above water for days and transport it for hundreds of miles. The whales off Saturna know their companion isn’t dead.

  • Iller whales can see about as well as humans.
  • Anyone who has watched a killer and thought it was looking back at them from the water, or through the glass walls of an aquarium tank, was probably right.
  • Iller whales see well enough to not just identify other creatures but to identify depictions of other creatures in paintings or photos.

They can also recognize themselves in mirrors—a test used by scientists to determine self-awareness and intelligence. But vision isn’t the most useful sense when you’re diving a hundred meters in murky water. Killer whales listen, using a sense called echolocation, which works like sonar technology.

By emitting sound waves and tracking the echoes as they bounce off their targets, these whales can find and “see” anything in the water. As each of these two whales transmits a signal from the front of its head—the melon—they are able to sense the injured whale’s heart pounding, to listen to their baby choke as water seeps into its lungs.

Orcas can hear each other’s calls from more than ten miles away. Their senses are so acute that they can dive to the bottom of a pool to locate and retrieve an object half the size of a wedding ring. There’s a blind Marvel comics hero—Daredevil—whose hearing is enhanced like this, which makes him dangerous enough to defeat armies of ninjas.

  1. Orcas basically have the same superpower.
  2. They don’t just “see” objects; it’s possible they can echolocate what’s inside of them.
  3. There’s anecdotal evidence to suggest they can detect whether a female from our species is pregnant before the expectant mother can.
  4. So these whales know that their pod-mate’s organs are still functioning and that they won’t be for much longer.

Orcas will work together to support and transport their injured mates for weeks at the risk of their own health. Why Do Whales Breach People who have spent a lot of time around these whales suspect that they also have a sixth sense or, at the very least, an uncanny sense of timing. Ever since Burich and Bauer and the other men in their original hunting party arrived with their weapons, the whales have steered clear of their usual fishing grounds—a route they’ve probably been following for thousands of years.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe the salmon were somewhere else. And maybe it’s a coincidence that the killer whales only returned this morning, after the plan to harpoon them had been aborted, after the gun was supposed to be gone. Veteran killer whale watchers and long time researchers all have stories about the ones that got away.

They’ll tell you about the orcas that waited until the moment the cameras were no longer pointed at them—or the moment after the film ran out or the battery died—before doing something spectacular. Is it too much of a stretch to wonder if they can sense friend or foe? Some longtime whale watchers are convinced that orcas will perform when they have the chance to endear themselves to humans who are working to save them.

Says Erich Hoyt, author of Orca: The Whale Called Killer : “Fanatic whale watchers—I’ve heard them talk—suggest that the friendlies, ‘the crowd pleasers,’ know their fate rests on humans and that they are on their best behavior with us, putting on one last show as it were before the big curtain, extinction, falls.” Killer whales have also helped humans hunt.

In North America and Australia, there are stories of orcas herding fish—and even other whales—to make it easier for fishermen to catch them. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, orcas near Eden, Australia, would drive humpback whales into an area known as Twofold Bay in exchange for their favorite pieces of meat—the tongue and the lips.

This working relationship where the killer whales worked as whale killers for more than a hundred years was referred to by local fishermen as “the law of the tongue.” According to the Eden Killer Whale Museum, “In the early years of Eden whaling in the 1840s there were reportedly around 50 killers spread through 3 main pods.

All three pods cooperated together. One pod stationed far out to sea would drive whales in towards the coast, another pod would attack the whale and another pod would be stationed ahead of the whale in case it broke loose.” The whale believed to be the leader was a twenty-two-foot, thirteen-thousand-pound killer the whalers named Old Tom.

  1. After a humpback had been trapped, Tom would alert the whalers by slapping his tail and repeatedly breaching (jumping out of the water and landing with a splash) to summon the humans to finish off the kill.
  2. There were also stories of fishermen falling into the shark-infested waters when their boats were swamped by a humpback and Tom and other orcas warding the sharks off and saving their partners’ lives.

In 1923, when a local whaler refused to share his catch and injured Tom in a tug of war that damaged his teeth, most of the pod stopped herding the humpbacks, proving that this wasn’t a natural behavior. It was a job, and if the orcas weren’t being paid, they weren’t showing up for work.

But Tom continued to herd larger whales for his taste of tongue. When Tom died in 1930—as a result of the teeth he lost—the people of Eden built their whale museum to honor their longtime partner and display his bones. The Australians of Eden had worked with the orcas for almost a hundred years. The indigenous people of the area, the Koori, are believed to have worked in harmony with the whales for ten thousand years.

And anyone who has ever seen a killer whale in captivity knows they can be trained to do practically anything in the water. Killer whales know how to work with humans—and save them—but humans have rarely been inclined to help the killers. The whales off Saturna knew what humans usually did when they came close in their boats.

The humans shot them. But as Burich and Bauer approach, the orcas can’t move quickly or far—even if it means risking being harpooned like their pod-mate. They won’t let their baby drown. In the early 1970s, Michael Bigg was working as a marine mammal research scientist for Canada’s Department of Fisheries, and part of his job was to assess the killer whale population now that orcas were being captured and displayed by marine parks.

Fishermen and killer whale “collectors” believed there were thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of wild whales roaming the Pacific coast. The initial plan was to tag the orcas, but after talking with Vancouver Aquarium curator Murray Newman, Bigg settled on a more radical idea—simultaneous observations.

  • Over the course of a weekend, volunteers located along the coast would spot and count the killer whales.
  • Bigg sent a questionnaire to fifteen thousand people who lived and worked on the water and asked them to report all the whales they saw on July 26, 1971.
  • Only 549 whales were spotted by volunteer scouts between California and Alaska.

That first census shocked everyone. It didn’t seem possible that there were only a few hundred orcas in the region. Then Bigg adopted an even more rigorous—and controversial—approach. In 1973, he and Ian MacAskie—his colleague from Canada’s Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo—were studying whales in the Johnstone Strait when they realized they could tell the individuals apart by the nicks, scratches, and marks on their dorsal fins and the shape of each whale’s “saddle patch”—a unique pattern located behind the dorsal fin.

Researchers in Africa were identifying individual mammals based on their features, so why not attempt the same approach with killer whales? Bigg and his partners soon identified all the local pods, designating every group with a letter of the alphabet and numbering each individual whale. The first killer they saw was number one, the second was number two, and so on.

The term “pod” is said to have originated from the fact that whales stay close together like the proverbial peas in a pod—and Bigg proved these pods really did stick together. The idea that every killer whale could be identified on sight was initially dismissed and even ridiculed by other researchers.

  1. Not only did photo identification strike other scientists as impossible; no one believed that there were so few orcas off the coast of Washington and British Columbia.
  2. The American government was skeptical of Bigg’s methods—and his math—and hired its own expert—zoologist Kenneth Balcomb—to determine whether there were more orcas in the U.S.

Balcomb, who fondly refers to Bigg as “the crazy Canadian,” conducted his own population survey in 1976. Not only did he confirm Bigg’s findings, but after launching a whale museum in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, he began giving all the numbered whales catchy names to raise money for his research and conservation efforts.

  • He wanted to convince people to adopt their own orcas, and it was much easier to convince kids to raid their piggy banks to support Ruffles, Granny, or Princess Angeline than J1, J2, or J17.
  • After the museum had been launched, Balcomb became executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Washington, which doubles as his home.

Balcomb has conducted an annual population survey ever since his first count and devoted his life to studying the whales found in the Juan de Fuca Strait, Strait of Georgia, and Puget Sound—an area that was renamed the Salish Sea in 2009 to honor the area’s origins and future. Why Do Whales Breach Orcas can be identified by their unique dorsal fins. | Courtesy of Dr. Brandon Southall, NMFS/OPR The orca’s fierce reputation was well earned. What Burich and Bauer didn’t know, what no one knew, was something else Bigg would discover—that there are multiple types of killer whales, which are so distinct that it is likely that, if they survive long enough, they will one day be considered different species.

  • The different kinds of killer whales—known as ecotypes—don’t look exactly the same, and although they are capable of breeding with each other, and have mated when forced together in marine parks, there is no evidence that they have bred with each other in the wild in more than 700,000 years.
  • The mammal-eating orcas that Bigg dubbed transients are as different from the fish-eating whales he called residents as lions are from house cats.

Not only do residents and transients have different feeding and hunting habits, but they also have different languages, rules, and rituals. When the two types of whales meet in the wild, the transients tend to steer clear of the residents. Thanks to aquariums where orcas serve time as star attractions, and movies like Free Willy, loveable, chatty resident whales with their close-knit families and seafood diet have captured the global imagination and become the default image not just for orcas but for every whale from belugas to blues.

Resident killer whales travel and hunt in close-knit family groups, constantly communicate, and feed on specific types of fish, determined by the part of the world they live in. Studies of dead residents have revealed that their diets are so specialized that when they’re living in the wild, they will almost never deviate from it, even if the alternative is starvation.

On the west coast of North America there are two groups of residents—the northerns, who roam between southeast Alaska and southern Vancouver Island, and the southerns, who live along the rest of Vancouver Island, including the waters near Saturna. These whales travel all the way down to California.

The orcas who earned killer whales their reputations as monsters were the transients, which scientists now refer to as Bigg’s whales. Bigg’s whales are less social, less chatty, and less picky about their food. These whales are larger, with sharper dorsal fins. They hunt in packs like wolves—the mammal they have often been compared with by anyone who has seen them hunt.

Humans watching killer whales over the years were convinced that these whales enjoy hunting, since they’ll catch a favourite menu item, like a seal, and flip it into the air to kill it. They’ve also been known to allow their prey to escape before catching it again.

These are probably older whales training their children, but regardless of their reasons, the methods earned killer whales a reputation for methodically tracking their prey and also for tormenting it—as if they’re playing with their food. After stalking seals and sea lions and punting them into the air until they’re dead, they peel the skin off their prey and discard it as if they’re snacking on bananas.

And their prey includes much larger whales—like minkes, grays, and humpbacks. They are also known to eat other animals that have wandered into or near the water—including birds and moose. Old Tom and his clan were Australian mammal eaters. When the orcas take down another whale, it’s a savage kill, the stuff of nightmares, even for seasoned whalers.

This isn’t legend; it’s reality. Orcas are the ocean’s apex predator. There may be no reason for humans to be afraid of transient killer whales—since they rarely attack anything they’re not planning to eat—but to any creature that’s part of their diet, they are the ultimate black and white horror movie, the destroyer of worlds, death.

And since they eat the largest animals on earth, why wouldn’t these unstoppable killing machines feast on human flesh? There are a few theories about why orcas don’t attack humans in the wild, but they generally come down to the idea that orcas are fussy eaters and only tend to sample what their mothers teach them is safe.

Since humans would never have qualified as a reliable food source, our species was never sampled. So why wouldn’t they mistake us for food if we fell into the water? Because they don’t rely on their sight. A shark will take a bite of a surfer and then spit it out because, apparently, we’re not as tasty as fish and seals.

But orcas use echolocation to lock in on their prey. If a human disguised himself as a sea lion, the whale would know that the idiot in the sea lion suit isn’t part of a balanced breakfast. Another possible explanation is that, unlike our species, orcas would never harm another creature they consider intelligent.

  1. Even though Bigg’s whales eat other whales and don’t mix with residents, the mammal-eating orcas don’t harm their pescatarian, pacifist cousins.
  2. Because of Bigg’s work, scientists and whale watchers now know almost every orca in the Salish Sea on sight.
  3. His research led to the southern residents being placed on the endangered species list in Canada in 2001 and in the U.S.

in 2005. Today, the southern residents are considered one of the most endangered populations of any species on the planet. In 2015, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service declared the southern resident killer whales one of the eight most endangered marine populations in America, and they are the only officially endangered orca population in the world.

At the start of spring 2016, after a year that saw the biggest baby boom since the 1970s, there were only eighty-three southern residents in the Salish Sea. But in 1964, the belief was that there were too many killer whales, they were ferocious, and, at best, they were a pest that should be eradicated.

The young whale drowning off the coast of Saturna was a southern resident, which meant the only item on its menu was Chinook salmon. In 1964, it was the salmon diet that had earned killer whales their designation as public enemy number one. A half dozen years earlier, there may have been enough salmon in British Columbia for whales, but there weren’t enough to satisfy humans.

  1. Fishermen blamed the killer whales, which were swimming beyond their usual hunting grounds in search of sustenance.
  2. Industry leaders demanded that the government step in to solve the whale problem.
  3. Proposals from government officials included arming the coast guard with explosive bullets, bazookas, dynamite, depth charges, and mortars.

One plan called for boats to herd the killers into shallow waters so that the air force could bomb the pods. One Canadian fisheries officer suggested using a baited line to entice whales to come close enough to harpoon. He was certain that if the harpoon failed to finish off the beast, the other members of the pod would do the job, saying, “There would seem little doubt that the cannibalistic traits of the rest of the shoal, if left alone, would soon put the finishing touches on him.” The fishermen believed that the whales were like sharks and that blood—even from their own kind—would ignite a feeding frenzy.

Finally, the Department of Fisheries settled on a more civilized solution than explosives. In June 1961, a fifty-caliber machine gun was mounted on the Vancouver Island side of Seymour Narrows to kill the whales. Seymour Narrows is roughly 140 miles away from Saturna. The gun was never fired, but not because anyone protested.

It was a dry, hot summer, and there were fears a stray bullet might spark a forest fire. Also, once the gun was mounted, the killers steered clear of Quadra, just as they stayed away from Saturna after the aquarium’s hunters arrived. In 1962, the salmon stocks returned and the fishermen assumed their competitors had already been culled.

  • The morning of July 16, 1964, the killer whales off the coast of Saturna were using their acute acoustic senses to track salmon.
  • From April to October each year, the whales swim more than seventy-five miles a day and can travel at up to twenty miles per hour as they stalk Chinook, which regularly cozy up close to the shores of Saturna.

On a good day, an adult killer whale eats up to three hundred pounds of salmon. On a bad day, there are no salmon and the whales don’t eat. On a very bad day, a whale gets hit by a harpoon. — Reprinted by arrangement with Greystone Books, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Do scientists know why whales breach?

Consider some responses about humpback whales by a few Whale SENSE Naturalists from Gastineau Guiding in Juneau, Alaska: – Why Do Whales Breach By Aleta Walther, Scientists don’t really know why whales breach, but some speculate that it is a form of communication, others think it might be a way to dislodge barnacles, maybe they are looking around, but I like to believe they breach because it’s fun. Why Do Whales Breach By Annette Smith, From my observations, there seems to be a ritual when bubble netting groups break up. I also think it is a startle response sometimes. I have also seen it in a frantic way along with tail lobbing when killer whales are in the area. Why Do Whales Breach By Scott Ranger, The simple answer is, we don’t know! I hear lots of reasons and here is what I think about them. If animals expend energy only when necessary, perhaps breaching energy could help understand this behavior. Breaching requires a great deal of energy in a spurt of activity.

Whitehead 1 calculated this for humpback and sperm whales at 617 kcal. Bursts of breaching are common and burn a lot of calories. Looking above the water, An upside down view of seconds? Their vision is limited, and their spherical lenses function far more efficiently in water than in air. Sloughing barnacles,

How can the force of a 45 ton whale dislodge a barnacle from its skin as they burrow and glue themselves into the skin? A study in Ecuadoran waters demonstrated that some do come off with intense activity. Sloughing skin, A Humpback whale sloughs small sections of skin continuously, likely an important role in maintaining healthy skin.

Could breaching aid in that shedding process? Social interactions. This is a broad category! Most of the breaching that I have seen has been associated with bubble net feeding groups, but males will also breach during competitive groups in the tropical mating grounds! Therefore, it is difficult to generalize why a whale would breach in all social interactions! Communication.

Landing from a breach makes a loud noise. I’m sure whales a long distance away can hear it through the water. Just what would the splash communicate? Play behavior. This is an enticing and difficult conclusion. As intelligent animals, wouldn’t this be an appropriate conclusion? Anthropomorphism is my worry.

  1. Because we humans play, do we conclude they play? Just this summer I was out with my four year old granddaughter and we watched whale 1879, better known as Sasha with her new frisky calf.
  2. Watching the calf do many variations of tail slaps, waves, throws, Mabel proclaims “she’s having fun!” Mabel just may be right.

How do we determine and measure play?

Whitehead, H.1985. Humpback whale breaching. Investigations on Cetacea. Berne, Switzerland.17: 117-155

Read more answers to Frequently Asked Questions here ! Header photo courtesy of Lilli Mack Ali Schuler Ali has been working with the Whale SENSE Program since 2018. She has worked as a whale watch naturalist in both Alaska and Hawaii, and spent her master’s researching the effects of whale watching on humpback whales and conservation.

Why do whale sharks breach?

Why Do Whales Breach “Don’t be afraid senor, they are harmless.” I knew that, damn it. I knew that whale sharks were harmless. I knew that in spite of the fact they’re as large as a bus that they wouldn’t hurt a fly. The largest fish in the world, the whale shark is a filter feeder and eats huge amounts of floating plankton to survive.

But all of that knowledge escaped my head as the giant creature barreled towards me, mouth agape consuming vast quantities of the ocean as it swam. That was how my morning swim with these massive and beautiful creatures began. I was in Mexico as the guest of the Villa del Palmar resort in Cancun who helped me realize an adventure travel dream.

I love that a luxury resort places so much emphasis on the experiences and not just fancy towels and soaps. They understand that a truly exceptional trip is all about the adventure. Why Do Whales Breach And an adventure it was. After getting over my initial shock of dozens of giant fish coming straight for me, I began to learn the system. The whale sharks breach as they swim in order to scoop up bits of food. You can see their dorsal fins coming as they approach and then you have a few moments to get out of the way. Why Do Whales Breach Why Do Whales Breach Why Do Whales Breach Like many wildlife experiences, the time flew by as I searched out the massive fish. I didn’t have to look very hard though, hundreds of them swam past in what is one of the largest assemblies of the whale shark in recent memory. It was a magical experience, one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself to believe that it’s actually happening. Why Do Whales Breach Why Do Whales Breach Why Do Whales Breach That’s probably what I love most about wildlife experiences when I travel, the fact that they’re so unique, even if hundreds of people are joining in the fun. No two people will enjoy the same moment of exhilaration; they’ll happen but will be different for everyone. Why Do Whales Breach