A Visual Guide To Common Humpback Whale Behavior

March 1, 2022

There is nothing more exciting than seeing a 30-ton whale throwing itself out of the ocean like a spinner dolphin on one of our whale watches. Luckily for you, whales have more than just one trick up their fins!

Here is a visual guide to seven common humpback whale actions you may see here in Hawaii.

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whale breach Maui

When you head out on a whale watch, this is the action you most want to see. A breach occurs when a humpback launches itself fully out of the ocean. Here is an explanation for why humpback whales breach.

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Tail Slap

tail slap

We love the tail slap, also known as lobtailing. A tail slap is, literally, when the humpback slaps the water with its tail in a straight up and down motion. It seems easy enough, but to do it, the whale needs to lift its rear out of the water in order to create the force needed to slap its tail down. This is different than the tail throw...

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Tail Throw

whale tail throw

Also known as a peduncle throw, you don't often see these on Maui, but when you do, they're spectacular. A tail throw occurs when a whale turns to its side and violently lifts its tail out of the water and slaps it down in a sideways action. Since it's believed tail throws primarily occur during mating, this action is very rare here in Hawaii.

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Pec Slap

pec slap

A pec slap occurs when a whale raises its pectoral fins (side fins) vertically, then slaps it down into the water. We like to think of pec slaps as a whale's way of waving "hello." We would be wrong, but it's fun to dream!

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Chin Slap

chin slap

Nobody likes to be slapped in the face, but humpbacks do enjoy raising their heads out of the water, then slapping them down. It takes a great amount of strength to raise the upper half of their bodies out of the water and slap them down.

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spy hop

Humpbacks do this to look out over the horizon. Kind of like gophers peeking their heads out of their holes, humpbacks lift their heads out of the water and look around. If you see a humpback doing this, it's probably looking right back at you!

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humpback spout blow

"Thar she blows!" The famous pirate cry is the most recognizable and common action you'll see on a Maui whale watch. What you may not know, however, is that humpbacks do not blow water out of their blowholes. Instead, they are blowing out the hot air and mucus that collects in their lungs. When this warm mixture hits the cooler outside air the condensation it creates looks like a spigot of water.

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More Maui Whale Watch Guides:



Most of the Humpback whale photography on this post was shot by Natalie Brown Photography.

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