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When a 20,000-Pound Minke Whale Becomes a Torpedo

When a 20,000-Pound Minke Whale Becomes a Torpedo

On a midsummer’s day in 2013, passengers on a Quoddy Link Marine whale-watching tour got treated to a rare sight. Up from the depths came the streamlined, blubbery bulk of a minke whale, shooting into the air like a surfacing submarine.

Lots of whales breach. Dolphins do it. Humpbacks do it. Even orcas of the northern seas do it. But, as the Quoddy Link Marine crew wrote in a blog post about the event, seldom does anyone see a minke whale propel itself out of the water.

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Given that the whale watchers didn’t hear any Kriss Kross playing in the background, we can only imagine why this particular whale decided to jump. But, as far as marine biologists can tell, there’s a variety of reasons for why whales might pop up above the waves.

The most commonly-held idea is that it just feels good. Whales often carry a host of biting, sucking parasites, and, being that they lack any way to pick the intruders off, a good breach may knock the invertebrates off and be the closest the whales can get to a good scratch.

Then again, whales might breach to communicate with each other. The dramatic “whompf!” is a pretty good way for a whale to tell its friends where it’s at, warn competitors away from its turf, or just show off how vigorous it is to potential mates. In fact, whales that frequently breach often do so when traveling together, so breaching can carry a meaning that we don’t yet understand. If only we could speak whale.

IMAGES: Quoddy Link Marine

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