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What are those whales up to?

two whales

Whale Season is a very exciting time in Hawaii. Here on Maui and aboard Kai Kanani the excitement is building as we reach the peak of whale watching season. At this time whale songs can fill the water and be heard on even the most casual snorkel excursion. And it’s almost impossible to sit on the beach and not see some type of whale action – spouts of the whales as they come up for air, breaches as they jump out of the water, and tail slaps as they smack the surface.

Understanding these actions is a great way to gain insight into the lives of whales. That’s why we’ve put together this quick guide to help our guests and friends better understand why Maui Humpback whales do the things they do.

The Blow – Breathe it all in and love it all out.

two whales

The Breach – If you must jump, jump for joy

breach whale

When a Humpback whale jumps out of the water it’s called a breach. There are many theories as to why Humpback Whales breach, but nobody knows for sure. One theory is to dislodge barnacles they picked up during their travels. In cold, northern waters barnacles will grow on the whales, but as they travel south to warmer waters these barnacles start to die off. You can imagine that these might become quite itchy and without fingers to scratch the itch, the easiest way to dislodge them would be to jump up and smash their 90,000 lb (40.8 metric ton) bodies against the water.

Another theory is communication. Sound travels extremely well in water and whales might be using this sound conductivity as a way to send messages to other whales. These messages could be that the Humpback whale is healthy and strong, that they’d like other whales to come near, or that they’d prefer some personal space, thank you very much.


whale tail

The muscles in a Humpback whale’s tale are the strongest in the world. We often see whales repeatedly slapping their tails on the surface of the water. Sometimes it’s just once, but we have counted a whale slapping its tail over 40 times in a row. Conventional thought is that the tail slap is an aggressive move – you wouldn’t want that coming down on your head! Yet like the breach, the tail slap could be a great way to get rid of barnacles or communicate to other whales, since the sound of a tail slap can be heard for many miles.

Pectoral Slap – Please come visit soon

pectoral slap of whales

The pectoral fin of the Humpback is the longest of any whale, reaching 15 feet in length. We see whales of both sexes repeatedly slapping their pectoral fins against the water. Whales may either lie on their side and slap one fin, or lie on their back and slap both. This is thought to be a friendly gesture and an invitation for other whales to join them.