Leaping For Joy: Why Do Whales Breach?

why do whales breach

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Whales are truly some of the most majestic animals that have captivated and inspired humans for centuries.

They inhabit all seven oceans and are highly intelligent, complex beings that display a range of behaviors that suggest they are more similar to humans than you may think.

One of these fascinating behaviors is launching themselves out of the water and crashing back down with a large splash, also known as breaching.

It’s a behavior that has been observed in many whale species but is one that we still don’t yet fully understand.

Today, we’re going to delve deeper into whale breaching and answer a common question when discussing this topic. Why do whales breach?

We’ll explore some of the theories and research that has been conducted around this topic to try and understand this mysterious behavior.

Let’s get into it…

Why Do Whales Breach?

Without beating around the bush, whales breach out of the water for a number of reasons, including to rid themselves of parasites, communicate, and play.

It’s a behavior that many whales exhibit and involves the whale swimming at high speed up and out of the water with around 90% of its body above the surface.

So why do they do it? Let’s take a look.


Whales are highly social animals that often live in pods of usually between 2 and 30 whales, but pods may be larger.

It’s thought that breaching plays a role in how whales communicate with one another, as the splash of the breaching creates a sound that can be heard from many miles away.

why do whales breach
Photo by Leif Blessing

During mating season, some whale species are known to breach much more often which suggests they may be signaling to nearby whales that they are ready to mate.

Breaching may also be a way for whales to show dominance within their pod and establish a social hierarchy.


Breaching is considered one of the ways that whales play and have fun, with research showing that young humpbacks breach much more than adults.

It also shows that young humpbacks are more likely to breach when in the presence of other young whales, so it may be a way for them to interact and play with one another.

It’s likely a fun activity for whales to see how high they can leap out of the water and is a great way for them to strengthen their muscles.

Makes sense to me!

Removing parasites

As whales make their way through the ocean, it’s common for them to pick up barnacles, parasites, lice, and other bacteria that stick to their skin.

Over time, this can become irritating and cause their skin to itch and become uncomfortable.

Breaching may be a way for whales to remove parasites and other nasties from their skin, as the impact of the splash may brush off parasites.

Warn other whales of nearby threats

There are lots of threats in the ocean for whales, including fishing nets, vessels, predators, and pollution.

One reason whales may breach is to warn other whales of nearby threats, and they’ve been observed doing so through their “spy-hopping” technique.

This is when whales pop their heads out of the water so they can get a good look at their surroundings.

It’s a behavior that is commonly known in killer whales when searching the top of ice caps for seals and other prey.

What Does A Whale Do When It Breaches?

When whales breach, they use their powerful flukes and fins to gain momentum and speed before launching themselves up and out of the water.

It’s a spectacle to witness and one that is seen in many whale species including humpbacks, gray whales, and even blue whales.

The whale’s body may twist and turn in the air before crashing down back into the water and creating a huge splash and ripple.

It’s a physically demanding behavior that exerts a lot of energy from whales, which is why the largest species like blue whales and fin whales rarely breach.

Why Do Whales Breach So Close To Boats?

Whales breaching near boats is a common occurrence that may be a coincidence or could be them trying to interact or play.

Species such as humpbacks are known to be very curious and are known to breach extremely close to boats and have amazing interactions with humans.

Whatever the reason, if you’re ever lucky enough to be on a boat and witness a whale breaching next to it, count your lucky stars.

This is an encounter that very few get to witness so cherish it.

Do All Whales Breach?

All whales certainly have the ability to breach, but not all species do as it’s such a physically demanding behavior that isn’t viable for the largest whale species.

The likes of blue whales and fin whales are the biggest whales, so it’s more difficult for these animals to breach than it is for smaller whales such as minke whales or gray whales.

why do whales breach
Photo by Hector Estrada

The humpback whale is the most frequent breacher, but it’s still quite rare for humans to witness this behavior, and is not something you’ll see on every whale-watching trip.

Breaching is just one of the many fascinating behaviors that whales exhibit, alongside tail-slapping, vocalizations, spy-hopping, and fluke waving.

Wrapping Up

To summarise, breaching is a behavior that many whale species exhibit, but the exact reasoning behind it is still somewhat of a mystery.

It’s widely thought that whales breach in order to remove parasites, play, and communicate with one another.

Some whales are more frequent breachers than others as it can be a physically demanding task, but it’s known that young whales breach more often than adults which suggests it’s a playful behavior.

Larger whale species such as fin and blue whales don’t exhibit this behavior much, but they are capable of breaching if they so desire.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post today and learn more about why whales breach.

Catch you in the next one!