As you can imagine, it’s very hard to see what cetaceans are up to underwater, so we don’t know as much as we’d like about their behaviour there. However, whales, dolphins and porpoises can be very active on the surface, as they jump or show their fins and flukes—you might have seen this on TV or in photos. Scientists all over the world now use the same words to describe those activities and trying to find out why cetaceans behave that way.

A beautiful humpback whale breaching in a Marine Park  © Whit Welles/Wikimedia Commons

A beautiful humpback whale breaching in a Marine Park
© Whit Welles/Wikimedia Commons

Breaching: When a whale or dolphin jumps high out of the water and lets itself fall back down.  The reason for breaching is still a mystery. Some scientists think that they are trying to remove parasites sitting on their skin. Others believe it might be a way of communicating with each other, and some believe that the whale is just having fun!

 

Some spotted dolphins swimming ahead of a ship © NOAA/Department of Commerce/Wikimedia Commons

Some spotted dolphins swimming ahead of a ship © NOAA/Department of Commerce/Wikimedia Commons

Bowriding: Have you ever stood at the front of a boat (known as the bow) and watched the big waves splashing there? Those waves are created by the pressure the boat puts on the water and some cetaceans, especially dolphin species, often swim playfully in them. This behaviour is known as bowriding. Similar waves are created by large whales and sometimes dolphins are also seen to “bowride” these! It looks like a lot of fun for the cetaceans, but maybe they also like to save their energy and be carried along by the waves for a while with little effort.

Spyhopping: This is quite a common behaviour, and describes when a whale or dolphin slowly pops his or her head above the surface and, after a few moments, sinks back down again. We are not sure why whales do this, but they might just be coming up to take a look around.

A humpback whale showing off its tail off the coast of Hawaii © Jim Harper/Wikimedia Commons

A humpback whale showing off its tail off the coast of Hawaii © Jim Harper/Wikimedia Commons

Lobtailing: Cetaceans often lift up their powerful flukes and slap them down hard on the ocean surface. They are known to do it when they are irritated or feel aggressive, and it’s a clear sign that a whale or dolphin should be left alone.

Flippering: Similar to lobtailing, whales also lift up their flippers and hit them against the water surface, which is called flippering or flipper-slapping. When the flipper slaps down against the water, it creates a loud sound that can be heard over a large distance, not only under water, but also above the surface!

Logging: Imagine you come home after an exhausting day and you just want to rest for a while on the couch. Whales also rest, at the water’s surface without swimming, especially after an extremely long dive. The still whale looks like a giant floating log, and that’s why this behaviour is called logging.