Humpback Whales’ Acrobatics

The Humpback Whales‘ acrobatics are such a fantastic spectacle to witness as you sail along and so very special from your own boat. Our close sightings at Broughton Island and then along the coast past Forster-Tuncarry and Seal Rocks with small groups of 3 or 4 putting amazing displays for us, have been a delight, deserving of another post.

We have witnessed a number of whale behaviours:

  • The Blow – the visible exhale of a whale and often the first sign of its presence you see in the distance
  • The Spy Hop – where the whale lifts its head out of the water for an inquisitive, slow and controlled look.
  • The Pec Slap – where the whale slaps its pectoral fins on the water, which is believed to be a form of communication or courting.  The fins are a third of the body length, so very large.
  • The Tail Lob – where the whale waves the fluke in the air and makes a loud slap. It can be a sign of aggression or can be used when foraging to stun their prey.
  • Fluking – before diving, the whale lifts its tail.
  • The Breach – the most spectacular leap out of the water, with the whale often turning to land on its back, side or forward in a chin-slap.  This is a display of raw power.

To breach the whales either swim vertically upwards from depth, and head straight out of the water, or they travel close to the surface and then jerk upwards at full speed with a few tail strokes. We are told that to achieve 90% clearance, the whale needs to leave the water at 30km/hr, which requires a huge amount of energy. And yet breaching is often carried out in series as we have observed.


Youngster at play

Apparently the reasons for breaching are not known with certainty, but whales are more likely to breach in a group. It could be a simple expression of ‘joie de vivre’ or a form of communication. To us the pods looked like they were having fun! There is the belief that a breach is a display of physical fitness and could be used for dominance, courting or warning of danger. The loud smack on re-entry in the water could be useful for stunning prey, similar to lobtailing. Whatever the reason, seeing them leap out is awe inspiring.

The last few days have been an absolute highlight and we hope to see more as we keep heading north while the whales start heading south! We have seen so many, a pleasing sign that the Humpback Whale numbers are recovering. But they are still vulnerable to human interference.

We have now reached Port Macquarie where we are catching up with our friends Waz and Lisa. Here are a few images of the coast since Broughton Island.


17 thoughts on “Humpback Whales’ Acrobatics

  1. Fabulous! I love all your pictures! I can see that the sea is calm, but the wind swells your sails. Enjoy my friends! 🙂

  2. A humpback at 30 km/hr -that’s a lot of momentum! I had the experience of surfing alone with a humpback type whale close by here in the Monterey Bay some years ago. At some point, he/she did a long spy-hop about 30 meters away from me. I could see her/his eye staring right at me! Quite an experience – I admit to being a bit concerned about being so far from shore alone with such a huge beast. It happened to be my birthday – a birthday message perhaps – hh the mysteries of the ocean realm …


  3. Amazing stuff. Anecdotally I get the impression there seems to be much more whale activity in recent years. Have you noticed an increase in the years you have sailed the coast?

    • Hi guys – it’s the most we have seen this year, but then we are travelling north at the very time they are travelling south so we get to see them more. It’s lovely to see mums and youngsters.

  4. Great images, especially the juvenile totally clear of the water. I’ve seen a lot of images of the breach maneuver, but never one where the whale was completely airborne. Very well done!

    • Hi Robin- we have seen breaches everyday for the past couple of weeks. It’s unbelievable the number! Most are clear of the water in the first of a series but I am not always quick enough to capture the shot. This particular youngster I managed to get it coming out, airborne at various angles then crashing. Great fun!

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