Common Whale Behaviours

Southern Right Whale Behaviours

Southern Right Whales are docile, inquisitive mammals, who often show feats of athleticism. These mammals are a magnificent sight to be seen each whale season, as they travel to our warmer southern waters calve.

While whales exhibit similiar behaviours, they can vary dependent on the species. 


Breaching is a common and spectacular whale behaviour. This is when a whale launches themselves up out of the water then twists to fall back into the water.  It is believed whales do this for several reasons, such as to communicate, dislodge parasites, get a higher view, drive off predators or  play. Southern Right Whales can only breach about three quarters of their bodies out of the water, whereas others such as Humpbacks can become airborne.


Whales exhale air from the blowholes on top of their heads at great pressure, causing moisture in their breath to condense and create a cloud or “blow”. Southern Rights have a distinctive V-shaped blow and usually blow every minute or so after being submerged.


The eyes on a Southern Right Whale are set low on their body because their natural predators and hazards come from below. However, they can lift their head and eyes above the surface of the water when they want to have a look around. This is known as spyhopping.

Pec Slaps

A less strenuous way for whales to communicate, is to lay on their side at the surface and slap the water with their pectoral fin.


Tail flukes can measure up to five metres across and weigh several tonnes. Whales will often lift them out of the water then back down hard with a loud crack and lots of spray. This is called lobtailing, and is often done to communicate, cool down, just for fun.

Body Rolls

Whales frequently lay upside down, rolling on the surface with their pectoral used for balance. Southern Right Whales may display this behaviour to rest and stretch, to avoid the demands of a hungry calf or the advances of males during courtship.

Tail Lifts

Whales are able to suspend their tails above the water for extended periods of time  by dropping their heads and maintaining position using their pectoral fins to stabilise them.  Southern Right Whales do this to rest or study the area them. They have also been observed doing this to avoid the demands of a hungry calf, the advances of males during courtship.

Other Whale Behaviours

Deep Diving:  If a whale wishes to dive quickly, they will drop their heads, lift their tails out of the water, then swim straight down.

Play: Southern Right Whales have been observed playing with other marine species such as seals and dolphins. They have also been known to seaweed from the sea floor and toss it into the air.

Mating: Southern Right Whales reach sexual maturity around nine years of age, where they will produce offspring every three to four years. During breeding season, a female can mate with a number of males, with the last one impregnating the female. Females often avoid sexual advances by fleeing into shallow waters or rolling onto her back.