How do humpback whales communicate with each other?

By: Sarah VonBerge

Humpback whales are very independent creatures and normally only stay with their mothers for about a year, whereas a lot of other species of whales stay in groups, called pods.

At most, humpbacks normally travel in groups of 3, even though they don’t normally stay that way. They may help a couple other whales hunt or get somewhere, but they only stay with the other whales for a few days at most.

Most known for their shrieks, humpback whales also communicate via grunts and groans and are often called ‘inveterate composers’ because they make noises that can sound like music made by humans.

According to, humpback whales have multiple different kinds of communication techniques and each technique can mean something different. As stated before, they are sometimes called ‘inveterate composers’ because of their songs, which can last up to 30 minutes and travel 100 miles. The songs are believed to be mostly for mating purposes. These songs are mostly sung by the male humpbacks to attract females but also used to let other males whales know that that is their territory.

Although they sing, shriek, groan and more, they are most known for their physical communication. This communication involves spyhopping, lobtailing and breaching. Spyhopping is when a whale sticks most of its head out of the water and either leaves its eye right below the water or right above it for an extended amount of time. Although it is not completely known why they do this, it is suspected that they do it to watch their surroundings.

Another physical communication that they use is lobtailing. This is when a whale lifts its flippers or tail out of the water and slaps it on the water surface making a loud noise. This is known to show aggression but also warn other whales nearby that there is a danger.

Lastly, there’s breaching. Breaching is when a humpback whale lunges itself out of the water, exposing at least 40% of its body. Again, this is believed to be a warning to other whales but it is also suspected that they do this to show dominance.

Even though most physical whale communication is used to show aggression, it can also be used in nurturing ways. Humpback whales sometimes put their fins against each other to show affection and compassion.

Although humans’ understanding of whale communication is limited, it’s interesting to look into how they react to themselves, to their surroundings, and to each other. Whale communication is one of the most complicated and sophisticated forms of communication known.

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