Whale Behavior Guide

Baleen whales feed by taking in large amounts of both water and food (primarily herring, mackerel, and krill) then straining the water through the baleen plates hanging from their upper jaws. During feeding, ventral pleats running from the lower jaw to the navel allow a whale to expand its mouth up to 4 times its usual size. While in the nutrient-rich waters of Alaska, Humpbacks consume about 1 ton (2,000 lbs.) of fish during a single day!

Whale Watching photo of humpback whale breaching

Intelligent Fishing

Humpbacks have developed an ingenious method of cooperative fishing called bubble-net feeding. First, hunting members of a pod form a large circle deep below fish and krill. The whales then blow a cylindrical wall of bubbles as they swim upwards in a spiral path. The bubbles confuse the fish and krill, concentrating them at the surface, and making an easy feast for the whales.

Understanding Whales

Humpback whales are generally curious about objects in their environment; they will often approach and interact with boats. It's not uncommon for whales to come up alongside the boat, or even swim beneath it. Captains nicknamed these events "whale muggings" because legally they cannot move the boat until the whale has departed! From this close you can hear the blow (an exhalation at 300 mph) and the loud slaps of tails, flukes, and breaches


The normal pattern of exhalation and inhalation at the surface. If you are close enough you'll be smelling some fishy whale breath!

Fluke Dive (sounding)

Signals a deep dive. Following a peduncle arch, the Humpback will usually bring its flukes high above the surface of the water, propelling it straight down.

Pectoral Slap

The whale rolls to the side, slapping its pectoral fins against the water. Whales will also lie on their backs and slap both pectoral fins on the water.

Spy Hop

The whale rises vertically to a point where the eyes are above water, then spins on it's longitudinal axis to get a look at the surrounding area.


The whale propels itself out of the water, generally clearing the surface with two-thirds of its body or more, often with a twisting motion. Amazing!

Tail Slap

Forceful slapping of the flukes against the surface of the water. Sounds from tail slaps can be heard for miles.

Peduncle Slap

Aggressive behavior where both the caudal peduncle and flukes are thrown up out of the water and brought down with force, often on top of another whale.

Head Slap

Head-first lunge out of the water, the whale pounds its massive, sometimes partially engorged mouth on the water's surface.