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How Whales Work


Breaching
This humpback whale is breaching, propelling itself out of the water and crashing back down again. Breaching is one of the most mysterious whale activities. Marine biologists aren't really sure what purpose it serves.
This humpback whale is breaching, propelling itself out of the water and crashing back down again. Breaching is one of the most mysterious whale activities. Marine biologists aren't really sure what purpose it serves.
Photo courtesy Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance

One of the most spectacular behaviors in the animal kingdom is whale breaching. In this jaw-dropping acrobatic feat, whales weighing many tons build up enough velocity underwater to launch themselves above the ocean's surface, twist in the air and fall back, producing a tremendous splash.

Whale researchers still aren't sure why whales do this, but they have a number of guesses. It may be that the huge splashing sound is used to communicate with other whales, especially when there is a lot of other noise underwater. Another idea is that the whales are trying to knock off crustaceans and other parasites attached to their body. Some researchers think breaching may be a demonstration of prowess, and that it could play some role in courting rituals. One of the most popular ideas is that whales breach simply for the fun of it. Most likely, breaching serves many different purposes that vary depending on the species and situation.

In the next section, we'll discuss the differences between whales and dolphins. Think of it as explaining the difference between two cousins in the same family.


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