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 some stunning weather over the weekend along with some great sightings on our tours. Not only were we able to see sperm whales but also the rare opportunity of seeing a pod of beaked whales pass by the Kaikōura coastline. Not a common sight at all and one that is very treasured by all when we do.

Over the weekend we also had a visit from a couple of the crew from Emirates Team New Zealand with the America’s Cup. It was great to have the opportunity to see the cup up close. Check out this video to see how the afternoon went.

The Huttons Shearwater (Tītī) are special to us in Kaikōura. Their habitat sustained considerable loss during the Nov 2016 earthquake. Please take the time to vote for them as Bird of the Year and this status will help secure the much needed funding for more research so we can plan for their future.

REGULAR, SCHEDULED CLOSURES OF STATE HIGHWAY 1 SOUTH OF KAIKOURA

The highway will be open during daylight hours on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays (perfect for a long weekend getaway) from 7AM to 7PM.

The highway will be closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for repairs to take place. 

The closure schedule is expected to remain in place until December 2017.

There is a possibility of short delays and it will be 30km/hour through parts of the route. Check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling. Inland Route 70 remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Please be aware that this week is a full closure week - Monday 16 to Friday 20 October. The road will reopen to the public midday on Friday 20 October for Labour weekend travellers. Another full week closure is scheduled for Monday 6 to Friday 10 November. 

Something worth celebrating...

Restoration work on the Kaikoura marina begun 10 months ago, and over the weekend we celebrated being able to now use berth 3 & 4. We have been using our trailer unit & the public jetty for some time now so to be able to pull up into our berths is quite an exciting feat. We still have a wee way to go but this is a HUGE step closer to being fully operational. We are very thankful for the amazing work the harbour repair crew are doing in what are at times trying conditions. We are excited to see our new and improved marina once it is completed! We cannot thank the tireless effort that the workers have put in to get us to this stage especially in what has been trying conditions at times.

More great news…

We thank you all for your patience over the last 11 months with the changing tour times with having work in line with the tides but with being able to now use berth 3 & 4 it means that we are now back running on our original fixed tour timetable. 0715, 1000, 1245 & 1530 (Nov-Mar)

KAIKOURA 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

Hasslefree ToursCanterbury Leisure Tours & Kaikoura Express 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.

11 months on and we are starting to see some real progress – the teams out on the road, rail and the marina are all doing such an amazing job for which we are so thankful. And, we cannot thank you all enough for your continual support.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura