The power and spectacle of a 40 ton humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breaching clear out of the water is truly unforgettable. Humpback whales are the acrobats of the ocean and the minstrels of the sea!
Breaching can be used in many ways by a whale depending on the situation. Male whales competing for available females may use successive breaches to show their prowess to a particular female. They may also target other prospective males by actually breaching on top of them – an act that more than once has ended in a broken spine for the receiver of this aggression.
Breaching can also be a means to see what is going on around a whale. Alternately, a whale may breach to rid itself of extra hitch-hikers such as “sucker-fish” or remoras, and some scientists have even suggested it might be a good way to cool off on a windy day.
Female whales have often been observed teaching their calves how to breach with the practice session culminating in both animals breaching at once! In the calving grounds off Western Australia, it’s not unusual for an annoying shark to get the “hurry-along” from a protective mother with a short-tempered, explosive breach!
Sometimes a whale just looks like it is having fun when breaching! An incredible video of a freed humpback whale in the Sea of Cortez showed the animal repeatedly breaching after the disentanglement of masses of net by researchers. Clearly the whale was delighted and happy with its’ new-found freedom!