Whale Behaviors

What is that whale doing?!

As naturalists and marine mammal biologists, sometimes even we cannot answer that question! The whales of Stellwagen Bank exhibit a diverse array of behaviors. However, our understanding of the nature of these behaviors remains unclear. Following is an ethogram of behaviors we often see on the water! 

Surface Behaviors

Surface behaviors range from low active behaviors such as logging to intermediate active behaviors such as spyhopping and traveling.  More energetic behaviors include flipper slapping, lobtailing, inverted lobtailing, breaching (full breach, half breach, spinning breach, tail breach, chin slap breach) and head stands.  While there are many theories about why whales jump, flipperslap or lobtail, there are no definitive answers.  Theories include exercise, plat, territorial displays, ridding of parasites (grooming), aggression and communication.  However, it is possible that depending on the social and environmental factors, any of these (or a combination) could explain the nature of these spectacular behaviors.

Breaching minke whale
Flipper slapping









Half breach











Feeding Behaviors

Humpback whales display a wide variety of feeding behaviors depending on the bait they are feeding on, where the bait is in the water column, and preferences to that specific individual! Feeding behaviors we see are bubble clouds, kickfeeding, lunge feeding, open-mouth feeding, cooperative feeding, snaking, surface straining, and nursing calves!

Surface straining
Bubble clouds








Cooperative feeding
Open-mouth feeding










Lunge feeding