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Last month in Northern California, a massive humpback whale jumped out of the water, flipped over mid-air and dove back into the water, narrowly missing two nearby kayakers. This behavior is called breaching and the kayakers were lucky they survived; had the whale landed on them they would have certainly sustained damage, if not died. Whale expert Joy Reidenberg, a professor at Mount Sinai University, believes the whale saw the kayakers mid-breach and tried to avoid crushing them.
Humpback whales usually breach in one of two ways: a "chin slap" is when half their body emerges from the water and they land flat on their throat, and a "full breach" is where they fully emerge from the water, flip around, and land on their back or side. This whale did a full breach but ended up landing on its throat. According to Reidenberg, "This is unusual, and might indicate that it was surprised by [the kayakers'] presence when it breached and saw [them]. Perhaps turning like that allowed it...to cause less damage." She believes that the two kayakers would not have survived a direct hit from a full breach.
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Humpback whales can weigh more than 40 tons (which is about 36,300 kilograms or 80,000 lbs.) and be up to 52 feet (16 meters) long! Why do these massive mammals like to throw themselves out of the water? Marine biologists simply don't know for sure, although they have a number of different hypotheses. It may be a defensive move used to ward off other whales, or it may be part of a mating ritual. Some believe they do it either attract or warn off other whales. Humpbacks are also known for lobtailing, which is when they slap the ocean's surface with their tail. Scientists are baffled by this behavior as well, but they suspect it might be some form of communication with other whales (lobtailing can be heard underwater hundreds of feet away).
Other hypotheses regarding why whales breach: it helps them digest food, they do it to get barnacles off their bodies...the list goes on. Maybe they just like to show off how insanely large they are? Whatever the reason, it's a spectacular sight to see (especially if you're not kayaking close by when it happens!) Have you ever seen it happen? Do you think you know why they do it? We'd love to hear from you, so please leave a comment down below.
I thought the humpback whale was about to land on us. Did it turn away deliberately? (The Guardian)
"For the last few days I have been kept awake, and looking up in the dark I see the whale again. The barnacles on its skin, the grooves on its throat, its bigness."