Whales are quite active in the water and display a range of spectacular surfacing behaviours. Experts believe that some of these behaviours help them to work out their position in relation to land, or allow them to communicate with other whales. Fin slapping may also be a warning of danger nearby. Another theory is that whales launch themselves out of the water and fall back with a splash to rid themselves of skin parasites. Of course, they may just be having fun!
Breaching is a form of surfacing behaviour where most or all of the whale's body leaves the water. Many species do this, but some, such as humpbacks, seem to breach more frequently. There are many theories as to why whales do this: to communicate, attract other whales, or warn off other males. But no one really knows exactly why – yet.
Lobtailing or tail slapping and fin slapping
Lobtailing occurs when a whale or dolphin lifts its tail flukes out of the water and then brings them down onto the surface of the water hard and fast in order to make a loud slap. Similarly, species with large flippers may also slap them against the water. This behaviour may be used to communicate, scare fish or may be a sign of aggression.
Sometimes whales lift their head and part of their chest vertically out of the water so that their eyes are just above the water line – this is called spy-hopping. It is believed that whales do this to take a look around above the water. Maybe they just like to see you watching them watching you!
Whales blow air, water vapour and mucus as they surface to take a breath. Each whale species has its distinctive blow, such as small and bushy for humpbacks, V-shaped for southern rights and up to 12m high for blue whales.
Unlike humans, who can breathe involuntarily, whales must consciously think about surfacing to breathe. Because of this, whales never go to sleep, but instead doze with one half of their brain remaining active to focus on breathing.