Does the weather influence when and why humpback whales breach?
Personal observations from the 2014 whale season in South Africa found that humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) tend to breach more vigorously on wilder windier choppier days. A preliminary scout online and asking among a couple of contacts (e.g. whale watching operators and researchers) also returned similar anecdotes.
Whilst breaching is generally believed to be done for reasons such as communication, rivalry displays, or to remove parasites, the prevalence of this behaviour on turbulent days points to an additional motivation.
Some suggest windy days make whales – like terrestrial animals – more energetic, others say vigorous breaching assists communication on rougher days, though these explanations are less convincing. Having noticed an additional tendency for humpbacks to breach either with or head first (and chest up) into the wind, it is more logical to go for the theory that the winds better assists thermoregulation (i.e. cooling off).
By maybe it just feels damn good having that breeze blow along the grooves of your throat and chest!
Take a moment, if you will, to imagine yourself inside the body of a juvenile whale. Experience that brief other worldly novelty of leaping out of your comfort zone and, coupled with the glimpse of foreign terrestrial horizons, feel that wind whipping across the softer sensitive areas of your body’s smooth rubbery skin for the first time…before slapping back through the water’s frothy surface.
It must be a phenomenal combination of sensations.
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