Humpback whales are brilliant communicators. Males use a series of complex sounds to create songs that travel far underwater. But now researchers have discovered that the way they leap out of the ocean is also a form of talk.
Migrating humpback whales are lively and can often be seen jumping out of the water and slapping it with their fins and tail flukes on the way to their breeding grounds. This leaping, known as breaching, has long baffled scientists; theories have suggested that it enables them to breathe better in rough seas, or that it helps remove barnacles and lice from their skin.
A study published in the journal Marine Mammal Science last November revealed that whales breach to communicate and that they use different signals for different situations.
Breaching normally occurs between groups that are distant but in the same broad area, while tail slapping is used when they are in closer proximity. Fin slapping occurs in windier conditions when they need to make more noise to be heard.
Scientists do not yet know what these signs mean, but they show how these super-smart creatures can adapt their methods of communication to different conditions.