Ask an expert: Why do whales jump?

By AG Staff | November 7, 2013

Our latest reader question delves into the world of whale acrobatics.

QUESTION: Why do whales jump out of the water?
Stuart Woodcock, Coolamon, NSW

Dr Chandra Salgado Kent, whale expert at Curtin University, says:

When a whale breaches, its body leaves the water. Some likely theories are that breaching occurs in competitive displays between males. Others suggest it may be a warning for perceived threats, such as predators, or even unwanted attention from vessels.

Another theory is that breaching may be a form of communicating over great distances; the acoustic signal of a whale breaching can be intense and, as sound travels faster in water than air, it can be a quick way to transmit information such as location and size.

It has been suggested that it may be a technique to stun or scare prey, ultimately helping them feed.

All in all, whales most likely do not breach for any single reason – rather they likely breach for a variety of reasons, which help them communicate, deter threats, successfully forage and mate, and in general help them survive in their very dynamic world under water.

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