One of the whales’ most striking behaviors is when they slap their tails on the water. It is an incredible sight, but the sound is unforgettable too.
Whales slap their tails to communicate with other whales in their mating rituals. Whales also slap their tails to scare off predators or males and remove parasites and barnacles.
Whales have many exciting behaviors but lobtailing is one of my favorites. If you want to find out more, then please read on.
Lobtailing is another name for the tail slap. This is a behavior of whales when they lift their tail fin out of the water and bring it down with great force to slap the ocean’s surface.
The effect is a loud “wham” and a big splash of water. Lobtailing is very common with whales and captures most whale watchers’ attention.
The slap can be heard from some distance above and below the water’s surface. This can lead to a call and response reaction from other whales. If you see one whale lobtail, there is a good chance of seeing one or more other whales answering the call.
Why Do Whales Lobtail?
Whales slap their tails to communicate, warn away predators or other males, and impress a potential mate.
Different species of whale lobtail differently. Humpback whales will lobtail repeatedly. They will often raise their tail back and forth to slap the water. In most cases, they will stop to take a breath before continuing.
Whales will slap their tail to send messages to enemies or mates. Although other marine animals do not understand the message, this activity is used to signal other whales.
The functionality of lobtailing as a way of communication in whales seems to be the most likely reason for the behavior, but lobtailing seems to have a couple of functions.
Scientists know that tail slapping produces percussive sound, traveling a long distance underwater. This indicates that this serves as a means of communicating.
However, slapping their tail on the water’s surface diminishes the intensity underneath the water. It is unknown if whales make the same sound under the surface.
Whales will increase the slap force depending on the distance they want the message to travel. Big splashes are for long-distance transmissions, while smaller ones signal over shorter distances.
A study by Ailbhe Kavanagh at Queensland University revealed some interesting information. The study targeted ninety-four groups of humpback whales as they migrated from the Queensland coast from 2010 to 2011.
The study showed that humpback whales regularly leap out of the water, known as breaching. After this, the whales would repetitively slap their tails. The sound from the waves traveled underwater to send messages to other whales around them.
Does Lobtailing Remove Parasites?
Whales also lobtail to remove parasites from their skin. The tail slap will remove parasites and barnacles built up on the tail.
Many types of parasites will hold on to whales for food and shelter. One of these parasites is the whale louse that can hide in the genitals, nostrils, and eyes.
When whales get overwhelmed by these parasites, they have been seen to slap their tails to remove them.
Do Whales Lobtail When Migrating?
Whales also lobtail when migrating, but the patterns change. When whales are traveling long distances, their primary focus is on swimming. Migrating whales minimize their activities of slapping their tail to conserve energy when migrating.
Does Lobtailing Help Their Songs?
Migrating whales are known to sing. When migrating, some whales make vocal sounds such as barks, grumbles, snorts, groans, and whoops.
Another way of signaling is to slap their tails to create rhythm. This is one of the reasons why you can observe whales lobtailing together.
It has also been discovered that the force of the tail slap increased in humpback whales when the wind was stronger because the sounds were less audible, with males slapping their tails more than females.
Do Whales Lobtail During Breeding Season?
Whales also lobtail during the breeding season to communicate with the opposite gender. In most cases, the male will lobtail, then the female will respond. This is one of the simplest ways that whales communicate.
Do Whales Use Tail Slaps To Get Attention?
Tail slapping signals attention for some whale species, especially those with a complex social organization. Whales will lobtail as a way of notifying other species of their presence.
Is Lobtailing Connected To Whales Breaching?
Whales are known to jump out of the water, called breaching. There are no clear indications that breaching and lobtailing are connected. However, scientists believe whales jump out of the water to communicate with other animals.
This is common among migrating humpback whales to send signals to other whales in the area. Like lobtailing, whales jumping out of water is a sign to other groups.
Do Whales Lobtail All Year?
Humpback whales lobtail year-round because they have to communicate with each other. This behavior happens regardless of whether the opposite gender is there or not, and it also happens outside of the mating season. This indicates that the behavior goes beyond the standard breeding functions.
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