Today’s lesson of the Language of the Whales™ will focus on the very powerful peduncle slap. Pivoting their head down and using their long pectoral fins for leverage a Humpback whale will then push their peduncle upwards with incredible force resulting in the peduncle and fluke breaking the waters surface and landing with an all mighty splash! This behaviour takes a lot of practice when young to perfect and often during the southern migration we can sight many Humpback calves practicing with their mothers.
A peduncle slap is a very aggressive behaviour and will be used to deter predators or threats away if they come too close and this is why we see this type of behaviour most often from a mother with calf. Being incredibly protective, the female will respond to anything that she interprets as a danger to her calf. This may be an obvious threat such as a shark, orca or dominant male Humpbacks but you will also see this response when other species of animals and boats do not treat the whale with respect.
We have also had experiences with younger juvenile whales who will be interacting with our vessel, approaching very close and suddenly will perform a more gentle version of the normally aggressive peduncle slap. This may be interpreted as a more dominant playful behaviour and can also be seen from young calves who are practicing this behaviour with other calves close by or when interacting with other whales.
Although it can be seen regularly with juvenile whales and young calves the peduncle slap is usually reserved by the adults for situations that require a very powerful message. The energy and power that results in a peduncle slap is truly impressive to watch and now that we have learnt the Language of the Whales™ we understand the true meaning behind this incredible surface activity and communication.