"All over the world, whales leap high into the air and crash back into the water, slapping their tails and fins on the ocean’s surface on the way down. Since breaching (as the behavior is called) demands so much energy—especially when whales are fasting during migrations—scientists assume it plays a crucial role in cetacean life, but what exactly that role is remains murky.
To find answers, University of Queensland marine biologist Ailbhe Kavanagh spent September and October of 2010 and 2011 at Australia’s Peregian Beach observing 76 groups of humpback whales migrating to the Antarctic for more than 200 hours. Their findings, published this January in the journal Marine Mammal Science, show breaching is far more common when pods of humpback whales are far apart (at least 4,000 meters or 2.5 miles), and fin or tail slapping is more frequent as groups split or come together. The authors say these patterns suggest breaching and slapping play a role in both long-distance and close-range communication. By slamming their massive bodies into the water, the resulting sounds, like a drum, can travel enormous distances. ..."
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