Humpback Holler

Why Whales Leap High

Paul S. Wolf/

Humpback whales are famous for their prodigious leaps from the water. A recent paper published in Marine Mammal Science proposes that breaching the surface and making a big splash serves as an acoustic telegram to communicate with far-off pods. The phenomenon may be compared to a distant drumbeat, which probably carries farther than the whales’ signature songs.

Former University of Queensland marine biologist Ailbhe S. Kavanagh, Ph.D., and her colleagues observed 76 humpback groups off the coast of Australia for 200 hours between 2010 and 2011 and found that breaching is much more common when pods are at least 2.5 miles apart, with more local slapping of fins and flukes when fellow whales are nearby.

This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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