January 27, 2016

Orca Behavior 101: Breaching

Female Orca Breaches

"So, what makes them breach?"

Ahhhhhhh, the most common question whale watchers consistently ask. The answer is...... We don't know for sure!!

A full breach is known as the "big splash" or more scientifically as when more than two thirds of a whale’s body leaves the water. This behavior is one of the most spectacular to witness in the natural world, and often leaves quite an impression on our guests. Though we have no exact explanation for why the whales breach, we have a few good guesses, or “hypotheses”:

1) Communication! A HUGE whale hitting the surface of the water makes a huge noise both above and below the water. Often times we will see one whale breach and then can be prepared for “response breaches” or other whales breaching after hearing the first breach.

2) To shake parasites off of their skin. Whales carry parasites on their skin, and sometimes get itchy! What better way to scratch an itch than jump out of the water and land down with a splash? Think about the way your skin feels when you belly-flop into a swimming pool.

3) For Fun! Orcas and other species of whales and dolphins are known for their play behavior. Play in the animal kingdom is a way to practice social interactions, refine hunting techniques, build muscle tone, and to strengthen bonds between individuals. They might breach just for the fun of it!

Hope to see you out on the water soon!

Insider Tip: To have the best chance of catching this behavior on camera during your whale watching trip I recommend waiting until you see one breach and then keeping your camera focused in that general area. Usually if a whale breaches once it will breach a second time!