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Whale Behaviours

Whale Surface Behaviours

We are very privileged in Australia when it comes to whales, approximately 50% of all the world’s whales and dolphins are found in Australian waters. With at least 45 species of whales and dolphins living in or visiting Australian waters. However, it is the annual Humpback whale migration that gives us the best opportunity to observe these magnificent mammals and their whale surface behaviours.

The Humpback whales that we see off the New South Wales coast spend the summer in Antarctica feeding upon krill and putting on lots of weight. They leave their summer feeding grounds in March/April and we start to see them off the Sydney coast in May, June, July and August. They travel up to the Great Barrier Reef where they calve and breed. We then see them heading back south between late August to mid November.

Humpback Whale Surface Behaviours.

Humpback whales are affectionately knows as the ‘acrobats of the ocean.’ This is due to their impressive array of behaviors. Any or all of the following humpback behaviours may be observed onboard one of our whale watching tours. However it is important to remember that whale behaviour is different each day. Our whale watching tours take you out to ‘observe’ the whales in their natural environment.

We are not taking you out to see a performance. Humpback whale behaviours you may see include those below.

Pectoral Fin Slapping

Humpbacks may slap the water’s surface with one or both fins (pectorals) simultaneously. This may serve as a means of communication to other whales. It is also and effective means to rid the pectorals of any parasites.

Tail Fluke up Dive

The underside of a whale’s tail is called the fluke. Each fluke is unique just like our fingerprints. A fluke up dive is where the tail of the humpback appears out of the water in an upward arch and slowly rolls underwater in conjunction with a dive.

Tail Slap

The humpback raises its tail flukes out of the water and slaps them downward forcefully on the surface of the water. This behavior is often repetitive and may serve as a warning.

Peduncle Throw

An energetic display whereby the whale throws its tail out of the water and in the process slaps its peduncle (the area between the dorsal fin and the tail fluke) on the waters surface.

Spy Hop

The whale rises vertically towards the surface with its head out of the water. Some believe that this allows the whales to see what is happening above the waterline.


The whale uses its tail to propel part of, or all of its body out of the water and comes down with a splash. Some believe that this is a form of communication between whales others believe it is used to rid the whale of parasites.

For more information about humpback whales and other whales we recommend you download the NSW National Parks and Wildlife’s Wild About Whales app.
Photos above were taken by staff of Go Whale Watching owned by Merimbula Marina.

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