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Humpback Whale Surface Behavior

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We have been having some really good trips out in Monterey Bay recently. The Humpback Whales are back in the bay from their winter vacations in the warm tropical waters of mainland Mexico and boy are they putting on a show!

Humpback Whales are known to be one of the most acrobatic whales that visit the waters of Monterey. The main reason why they are here with us is to feed on the abundance of Sardines and Anchovies that we have here in our waters. When these whales are feeding sometimes we are lucky and they chase the fish right up to the surface and we are able to see them lunge feeding. When Humpbacks Lunge feeds their throws expand out along their ventral plates and makes them look a bit like bullfrogs. They can do this surface lunge feeding by themselves or in large groups. A photo of this surface lunge feeding behavior is in image F on the college.

Another behavior that we have been seeing a lot of from the Humpback whales is the pectoral fin slapping, image D. Humpbacks have the longest pectoral fins or side flippers to body size ratio than any of the other whale species. These pectoral fins can reach a length of 15ft and are used like airplane wings to help the whales maneuver around the large schools of fish they are feeding on. Humpback Whales can also do something we call chin lobbing, image E. This is when a whale will bring is face up and out of the water and then slam it back down.

Yet another behavior that we have been seeing from our whales is tail throwing, image A. A tail throw is when a whale takes the bottom third of their bodies and toss it out of the water. Tail throwing is a different behavior from tail slapping, image B. A tail slap is when a whale just lifts its tail slightly more out of the water and slams it back down on the surface. We do not get to see the full tail stock in tail slapping as we do in tail throwing. Either behavior is always fun the watch and makes quite a bang when the tails come back down on to the water.

Of course, we have also been seeing everyone’s favorite behavior of breaching, image C. Breaching is when the whale jumps either half of the body or all the body out of the water than slams back down. This is always spectacular to see as Humpbacks can weigh as much as 40,000lbs and be as long as 52ft. So to see a whale this large come flying out of the water is breathtaking.

Now we are not sure why these whales do any of this behavior but there are a few theories out there. Researchers think that these surface behaviors such as breaching, tail lobbing and pectoral fin slapping could be used for a few reasons such as communication between whales, stunning of fish during feeding, scratching and dislodging barnacles and whale lice, and exercise. Of course, these whales could be doing any of these behaviors for fun as well. So come to join us on one of our trips and enjoy the show that these magnificent creators are putting on.