Why Do Whales Breach?

Ever wondered why sperm whales breach? This is a question we get asked often by our visitors, so I have put together what is hopefully some helpful information to this interesting question. While our visitors might think the whales are doing this to make for that Kodak moment it is likely they are breaching for other purposes.

Whale Watch Kaikoura tour vessel next to a sperm whale breaching

Sperm whale breaching - Photo Credit: Jaime Brown

Likely theorises for breaching include competitive displays between males (we only have the male sperm whales off the Kaikoura Coastline), it could be a warning of danger coming such as predators in the area. Another theory is that it could be some form of communication – sound travels faster in water than air and it could be a quick way to transmit information to other whales in the area. It has also been suggested that it might be a technique to stun or scare their prey which in turn helps them feed as well as shed loose skin which may be irritating them.

Video of a Sperm Whale breaching

There have been times out on our tours when we have seen first-hand these theories put into practise. I recall one day seeing a sperm whale named Droopy Flukes breach beside our vessel around 20 times, during this amazing display we noticed that he shed a layer of skin going from a dark brown colour to a much lighter shade of brown. While it was a spectacular sight to see I am sure it was also a great feeling for the whale to be rid of that itchy shedding skin. 

Sperm whales are known to eat a lot of squid, squid has beaks which are hard to digest and often end up causing constipation for the whales. We have seen sperm whales breach to relieve them-selves of this discomfort leaving behind evidence of this on the surface... As you can imagine the force and pressure of an 18-20m / 45-55 tonne whale propelling itself out of the water is indeed spectacular and would help relieve this irritation.

Giant Squid Beak

Giant Squid Beak

More recently we have had a couple of humpback whales spend some time in Kaikoura, during their time here they have also been observed breaching rather regularly much to the delight of the passengers and crew alike. Theories around humpback whales breaching are much the same to the sperm whales however with the humpback whales they too maybe trying to get rid of parasites built up on their sensitive skin.

 Whale breaching in Kaikōura, New Zealand

Close-up of humpback whale breaching in Kaikōura, New Zealand

One of the humpback whales that recently visited with us actually had some fishing net caught around it’s long pectoral fin which seemed to have been there for quite some time, this was obviously causing the young whale some distress but eventually after a lot of breaching and slapping of its fin on the water it was able to free itself of this netting.

 

Humpback whale breaching to get rid of the netting that's caught on its fin

Netting caught on the humpbacks pectoral fin

It really is a blessing to be able to view these beautiful creatures in their natural environment. We never know what to expect from one day to the next when out whale watching so as you can imagine when we do get to see a sperm whale breach (or a humpback whale for that matter) even the crew get very excited to see something so amazing take place. I know some of my fondest memories of my time out on the sea are of those moments when the whales would do something out of the ordinary and take you by complete surprise and leave you with a precious memory of nature at its best.

Sperm whale breaching in Kaikōura. Photo Credit: NZ Whale & Dolphin Trust

Sperm whale breaching - Photo Credit: NZ Whale & Dolphin Trust

 

Close-up of humpback whale breaching in Kaikōura, New Zealand

Photo Credit: Allan Cronin

 

 

 

We had it all over the weekend – sunshine, wild wind, sleet, warmth, cold and beautiful new snow on the Kaikoura ranges. Despite the conditions over the weekend in the days leading up we had some great tours with sightings of semi-resident sperm whales Manu and Tiaki and hen time allowed we also saw dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins, NZ fur seals and marine birds.

The most recent update on State Highway 1 South from Kaikoura is that it is expected to remain closed till the end of May to allow the construction of a temporary road and rail alignment around the base of the large landslide that came down during April’s heavy rain at Easter. Please allow extra time as you travel through Inland Route 70 which remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

As we enter into the cooler winter months it is a good reminder to take extra care on the roads and to check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling.

Progress is being made on the repair of the Kaikōura Marina and we continue to switch between using a berth and our modified trailer unit for launching our vessel Tohorā, when and where possible we are also making use of the public jetty that we have modified, this is due to tidal restrictions and repair work as a result of the coastline lifting by +1.0m. It is anticipated that the Kaikōura Marina will be fully restored by October 2017.

Dredging of the outer channel of the Kaikōura marina is well advanced.

Currently our available tour times are based around the tide times on the day and may differ from the tour times originally advertised, please bear with us as we continue to work toward being fully operational again. For an update on the tour times available please contact our Customer Service team directly either by email on res@whalewatch.co.nz or phone +64 3 319 6767 or free phone 0800 655 121 (within NZ) and they will be able to help you with your inquiry.  Please note we are operating at a reduced capacity in the interim with up to 3 tours available per day, please contact our team prior to arriving in Kaikōura to secure a space on one of our tours and to save disappointment.

Kaikōura Business Update:

Kaikōura is open for business. For latest updates on accommodation / restaurant and retail information please contact the team at the Kaikōura i-Site who will be able to help you find what suits your needs during your stay in Kaikōura.

Transport Update:

All subject to weather conditions, slips, repair work and seismic activity. Updates available from the NZTA WEBSITE.

Intercity, Hasslefree Tours & Canterbury Leisure Tours have daily services from Christchurch to Kaikōura with a return service from Christchurch, as well as Kiwi Experience now having the option of a day tour out of Christchurch for their travellers.

Progress on the work being done on roads (along with harbour repairs) can be found on this dedicated KAIKOURA EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE page provided by the team at NZTA, this page is updated weekly on Friday. Work is also starting to take place on the railway network, please be aware and take care when using rail crossings.

Please consider taking the time to visit Kaikōura, your support is most welcome.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.