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Why Do Whales Jump Out Of The Water?

A gray whale jumping out of the water near Dana Point, California

The Dana Point whale watching season brings an abundant number of whale sightings to onlookers aboard our five-star Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching tours. These whale sightings come from a handful of magnificent whale species that touchdown in the Southern California waters. These species range from humpback whales, blue whales, gray whales, and even killer whales, leaving novice and avid whale watchers in awe and often coming back for more.

With its incredible size and extraordinary appearance, each whale plays its part in making the Dana Point Harbor home to the best whale watching in California. Not only does their size and appearance leave spectators speechless, but their graceful demeanor and sometimes exuberant antics lead passengers to ask one of our most frequently asked questions, why do whales jump out of the water?

For mammals that can weigh anywhere between 12,000 to 400,000 pounds, (depending on species), it can be quite the scene to see these whales jump. As their notably long and large bodies make their way to the surface of the water, they propel themselves up and above it, almost hanging in midair for a split second. While wishing their split-second moment in midair would last long enough for you to fill up your camera roll with incredible Instagram worthy shots, they soon crash and splash back down into the ocean blue waters below their massive bodies. This crash results in a slew of ocean spray leaving anyone within a short distance both awe-struck and a wee bit wet.

As these whales jump, it no doubt has ocean voyagers experiencing both delight and absolute elation. But besides the bliss and ebullience that one can enjoy aboard a whale watching Southern California tour, it leaves us asking how and why these whales jump.

Whales breach and jump for many reasons, but one main reason that whales jump is for the loud sound effect. With a splash so big, it’s only obvious that it would be accompanied by a noise just as big. This is beneficial for whales who are striving to communicate with other whales who may be located long distances away. This is especially true if there are loud noises in the background of their marine environment, such as vessel noise and weather, which may inhibit their ability to hear and send vocals to other whales.

Researchers studied humpback whales, a species of whale that is famously known for its playful antics and high spirited maneuvers both above and below the water. While researching why these whales jump, they discovered that a whale’s jumping, fluking, breaching, and pectoral fin slapping varied depending on the weather conditions and how close in proximity they were to other whales.

In some instances, they found that when the weather was windy, therefore causing an inability to hear as well, the whales would fin slap more, whereas when conditions were different or whales were more distant from each other, they would find that the whales breach and jump to increase their chances of the louder noise reaching whales farther away. Upon observation, experts also found that whales jump less when co-species are in closer proximity, therefore not giving the whales any reason to make as much noise to communicate.

In essence, scientists believe that one of the main reasons whales jump and whales breach is simply to communicate more efficiently with one another. Although the specifics as to what they are communicating is unknown, it is believed that the communication can range from establishing the location of themselves and their food, to warning against predators such as killer whales. It may also go to simply show that humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy a good chat with loved ones here and again.

An additional reason as to why whales breach has to do with their eating patterns. Some theories state that whales jump to stun their prey, making it more convenient to catch and consume them. This can be helpful in feeding as it is much more time-efficient, largely because the prey is stunned and frozen, versus alert and capable of escaping a solid snack time.

While whales breach to communicate as well as to possibly make their mealtimes more orderly, it’s also believed that male whales jump to display competitive maneuvers among other whales of the same gender. Whether this is in an attempt to impress female whales or to have a bit of locker room fun, the reasons are not officially known.

A bit more is known about the gray whales though, who often breach and spyhop to catch a peek at their surroundings during their annual round-trip migration from the Arctic to their breeding grounds in Baja California, Mexico. Their vertical breach helps them to know where they are located during their migration, as they use coastal headlands as landmarks during their 12,000-mile migration.

One of the final reasons that whales jump is believed to be for the sheer joy of it. Researchers, whale watchers, sailors, carnival cruisers and many more who have spotted these spectacular creatures in the wild, can testify that they all have personality and spirit. With that personality and spirit comes a desire to express it, so while whales jump and breach, it may just be a way for them to enjoy life and exert their energy.

Thankfully, our incredible team and passionate passengers have and continue to be fellow recipients of these breathtaking jumps, breaches, and wild splashes. The sights have been nothing less than stellar and stunning, as onlookers catch more than fantastic photos of these amazing animals, but are also pleasantly caught off guard by their breathtaking breaches and jumps.

Gray Whale Breaching Near Sailboat off Dana Point

To see a massive animal almost take flight to propel their colossal sized self out of the water is remarkable and unforgettable. Safaris aboard Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching vessels give passengers the opportunity to experience unforgettable moments such as these.

Join us any time of the year as we embark on daily, year-round, excursions that may leave you jumping for joy like the marine friends nearby.

Until then,
Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari