Breaching is when a whale propels itself upward and leaps mostly or completely out of the water, and it is the most spectacular and well-known of the humpback whale’s many surface behaviors. While other species of whale breach, none are as prolific and accomplished as the humpback whale.
Breaches can occur singly but often occur in series, which allows for excellent photographic opportunities. Humpback whales can go from resting to a full breach in as few as three beats of its tail fluke, and while a single breach does not use much of the whale’s total energy a prolonged series of breaches can add up, with the whale gradually tiring and less of the whale leaving the water on each successive breach.
The purpose of breaching is unknown and while scientists believe that a breach helps dislodge parasites and dead skin there is a strong social element to the behavior as well. It may be used during courting to impress a mate or intimidate a competitor to establish dominance. Whales likely also breach as a form of play, simply because its fun!
There are several variations of the breach, including the classic twisting breach where the whale exits the water with a rotation that sends the pectoral fins flying before landing on its back, and the chin breach, where a whale exits the water at an angle while moving forward and then falling back into the sea on its chin. In a twisting breach most or, on rare occasions, all of the whale leaves the water while during a chin breach it is usually half the whale or less.
Because breaching is most frequently seen in breeding areas like The Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic, and with the great numbers of whales found there during the season, breaching is a common behavior that can be seen near and far every day.