Whale Behavior

Learn about the different whale behaviors


A head slap occurs when a whale quickly propels the upper portion of its body, sometimes up to the mouth, out of the water, and then forcefully crashes back down onto the surface of the water. This can possibly signify aggressive behavior towards other whales, or just an easy way for a whale to loosen parasites on its head.

Peduncle Throw

This uncommonly seen behavior is a direct identifier of whale aggression. This occurs when a whale forcefully throws his caudal peduncle and fluke out of the water sideways, crashing on the surface of the water, or possibly onto another whale!

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Peduncle Arc

Seen just before a deep descent, this is where the Humpback Whale receives his name.  The whale will force his back out of the water for a more vertical descent, usually followed by a fluke up.


The whale propels at least 40 % and up to 90% of its body out of the water almost vertically, then turns mid-air onto its side or back producing a large splash which can be seen for miles. This splash can displace several tons of water.


The most common activity to see from a whale is when he breaths or spouts at the surface.  The whales’ exhalation is forced with a blast out of its blow hole, producing a cloud of mist. The blow is one way to identify certain types of whales. Gray Whales have 2 blowholes and spout a V-shape, while Blue Whales spout a very large, very dense spout.


Using their tail flukes, a whale will forcefully slap the surface of the water from either a vertical or horizontal position. This is a common activity to witness, as some whales will begin a cadence of slapping for a short duration.

Flipper Slap

While at the surface, a whale will barrel roll onto its side and slap the water with its pectoral fin.  This behavior can also be seen while a whale is on its back, slapping the water with both fins.  This behavior may also be used when feeding, to stun small schools of fish.

Fluke Up

After a peduncle arch, and before a dive, a humpback will bring his fluke out of the water. In a fluke-up dive, the entire ventral surface of the fluke is seen, making this perfect for identification of the whale.

Fluke Down

In a fluke-down dive, less of the surface of the tail is visible and usually means the whale is going for a shallower dive


The whale will lift its head out of the water in a vertical orientation until just above his pectoral fin, and then spin slowly in a 180 degree fashion. Whales like watching humans too!