Why do Whales Tail Slap?


There are a few reasons whales tail slap but the main reason is to warn off predation or over bearing males &/or females. It is a defensive action and depending upon the energy in the tail slap generally indicates what the communication is all about.

Today was an excellent example as from over 2 mile away we could see Mum & Calf tail slapping with high energy, as we approached there was further commotion and a continued surface action indicating that there was some source of predation in the area as the energy was very high, both Mum & Calf were agitated and there were no other whales or boats in the area.

After 15 minutes the energy slowed and Mother & calf moved in close to our vessel and just sat comfortably going back into a resting state, the calf was very inquisitive but you could see that Mum was overdue for a rest so late in the season to be expressing such energy.

On closer inspection we did sight a smallish fresh shark bite to the tail of the Mother and that was the evidence we were looking for to confirm the aggressive tail slapping we watched from further off in the tour.

There was a similar episode a few weeks back with a similar shark bite of a similar size and that Mother was also with calf but displayed with a tail lob and some breaching.

Tail slapping can be very gentle at times and we often watch when two whales might lightly touch the top of the water when in courtship and even toward vessel’s if they are deemed to be too close, all signs of energy we constantly interpret in understanding the Language of the Whales™.

Another form of tail sapping is when whales snake, which means moving their tail like a fish or snake (move side to side horizontally), this is often witnessed in competition pod’s when the males advances are being rejected by the female or when males are competing for the pole position next to the female, a very interesting side of these gentle giants.

If you do see whales tail slapping please understand it is a defensive move no matter what the circumstance are and as whale watchers we must respect this and be sure not to approach too close and always be aware we are to watch whale behaviour and not influence whale behaviour, as best as we can.

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6 thoughts on “Why do Whales Tail Slap?”

  1. Thank you
    I’m at Tweed Heads Qld NSW
    Whale watching of course another beautiful season
    And there seems to be a real lot of tail slapping going on that I’ve never seen before like it
    for about 10-15 minutes about 1 klm of shore with a large flock of seagulls present
    I had to google , cheers for the information
    It’s seems to have stopped now and both whales are headed of Northwood

    1. Whale Watch Western Australia

      Hi Terry, thank you for your message and wonderful to hear you are having a great season off the east coast. The seagulls this season in Augusta have been very prevalent wth targeting the skin that comes loose from all the surface activity and we expect that the trait will be learnt from one generation to the next now as it spreads through the colony.

  2. I was witness to this in Tonga with one whale starting then more coming and doing it. Mostly side to side. I don’t believe there are predators here and not many boats. What does it mean ?

    1. Whale Watch Western Australia

      Hi Kim
      It can show a dominance between the two animals or there is predation below the water you cannot always see, either way it is part of the Language of the Whales we teach every tour. Many Whales can even socialise with tail & pec slaps, it’s more about the energy in the slap they is either speaking or yelling, saying approach or do not approach, each scenario is determined by the environment around the Whale.

  3. Whale watching today from my deck in Tongaat Beach, South Africa. The most exquisite tail slapping by two whales for approximately 15 minutes, and then calm.

    1. Whale Watch Western Australia

      Hi Diane
      15 minutes is quite a while, defensive language against predation or other Whales in the vicinity keeping their reactionary distance intact.

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