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Why Does a Humpback Make a Splash?


a whale jumping out of the water

Humpback “waves” his pectoral flipper in the air.

Guests on our Monday Morning Wake Up with the Whales Cruise got to see 5 different Humpbacks. One of them was spouting out in the distance, but the other 4 were within a couple hundred yards of us for most of the cruise. One of the whales in the closest pod of two decided to communicate something to the other one in his pod (or perhaps he was communicating to the pod further away). While we watched, he did a pec slap (lifting his long pectoral flipper straight up and then slapping it on the surface), a peduncle throw (throwing the entire back half of his body out of the water and landing with a resounding splash), a tail lob (slapping his wide flukes on the surface of the water) and even a breach! In between his bouts of activity, we took advantage of the moments of quiet to deploy our hydrophone. We were able to make out some Humpback vocalizations, but the whales creating the sounds were pretty far away from us.

On our Private Snorkel Whale Watch Cruise, we found an interesting group of 4 adult Humpbacks who seemed to be calmly hanging out  together. Usually when this many big adults are close together we witness competition between them, but this pod were just surfacing, spouting, and sounding. Maybe the real action was occurring below the surface, or maybe they had already sorted out social status, but regardless of the reason, it was nice that they seemed to be enjoying each other’s company as much as we were. Later in the cruise we found another pod of two (they looked familiar to us…possibly the same pod of two we had encountered on Saturday).
We also took guests out on a Pau Hana Sunset Cruise. The ocean was pretty bumpy which made traveling a bit of a challenge, but at the end of the cruise we spotted some splashing ahead of us. The splashes turned out to be from a breaching whale who kept breaching as we approached him. We caught up to him eventually and got to see him breach at our 9:00 (port side) just about 100 yards away.
Ocean Sports Whale Fact of the Day: One of the questions we get asked most frequently on whale watches, is “Why are the whales doing that?” (and for “that”, you can substitute all the whale behaviors we saw today…a pec slap, a tail lob, a peduncle throw and a breach). Since we can’t really ask the whales (well, we can ask, but they aren’t answering) we tend to interpret behavior based on what else is going on in the whales’ lives at that particular time. Humpbacks are in Hawaii to mate, calve, and take care of their babies. Aerial behaviors often result in big splashes which may be a great way for a whale to communicate size, status, location, excitement, aggression, irritation, or health to other whales or to something/someone else he hears on the surface.
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