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As a whale watcher, you'll observe orcas (killer whales) "performing" many different physical maneuvers or behaviors. The list below gives each of these physical actions a name, takes you through what happens, and in some instances, explains why.

Instantaneous Behaviors
​Instantan​eous Behaviors​
  • Aerial Scan - raises its head at an angle starting from a horizontal position

  • Back Dive - leaps out of the water and exposes two-thirds or more of its body and then lands on its back

  • Belly Flop - leaps out of the water and exposes two-thirds or more of its body and then lands on its ventral surface (ie. stomach).

  • Breach - leaps out of the water and exposes two-thirds or more of its body and then lands on its side

  • Burp - an above-surface vocalization that sounds like it's "letting gas"

  • Bubble Blowing - the sound produced when releasing air through its blowhole while still under water

  • Cartwheel - throws its flukes, caudal peduncle and rear part of its body from one side to another in at least a 45-degree arc

  • Dorsal Fin Slap - rolls on its side and hits its dorsal fin on the surface of the water with force

  • Fluke Lift - moves its flukes up and down above the water surface in a fluid motion with no force

  • Fluke Wave - lifts its flukes and part of its caudal peduncle above the water, pauses for at least two seconds, and then brings its flukes down with no force

  • Half Breach - leaps out of the water and exposes only half of its body, landing on its side

  • Inverted Pectoral Slap - while on its back, raises its pectoral flippers straight up and slaps the dorsal surfaces down on the water's surface (often an inverted pectoral slap is immediately followed by an inverted tail lob)

  • Inverted Tail Lob - while on its back, raises its flukes above the water's surface and brings them down with force

  • Kelping - "plays" with kelp or seaweed by dragging it on any body part; often it tries to position the kelp in the notch of its flukes

  • Lunge - breaks the surface of the water with its rostrum, melon and a large part of its body in a charging mode (the lunge often has a sideways component, especially when the whale is chasing something)​

  • Mating - a male inserts its penis into a female's genital slit

  • Pectoral Slap - lies on its side, lifts a pectoral flipper, and slaps it on the water's surface with force

  • Pectoral Wave - lifts a pectoral flipper in the air for at least two seconds and brings it down with no force

  • Rolling - rolls halfway, or all the way around in the water, along its longitudinal axis (this behavior is very helpful for researchers in determining the sex of an animal)

  • Sea Snake - the pink penis of an adult male, which can attain a length of 3 feet

  • Spyhop - raises its head vertically above the water, at least above its eye level, and then slips back below the water's surface

  • Tactile - coming into physical contact with another orca (eg, caressing one another with their pectoral flippers, or rubbing rostrums)

  • Tail Lob - lifts its tail flukes above the water and brings them down with force

  • Tail Thrashing - violently thrashes a tail fluke through the water surface (often observed when in pursuit of prey)

Prolonged Behaviors
Prolonged Behaviors​
  • Chasing - making sudden movements, including lunges and sudden accelerations (eg. when in pursuit of prey)​

  • Circling - making circling movements, often in the context of a chase​

  • Direction Change - changing its direction of travel and proceeding in a new direction; often preceded by milling

  • Feeding - seen with its prey​

  • Groups Spread Out - tight groups of whales separated by distances of 100 yards/meters or more​​

  • Joined - individuals or groups who have just "joined" with one or more other individuals or groups​

  • Logging - resting at the water surface exposing its melon, upper back and part of its dorsal fin for a period of at least 10 seconds​

  • Loose - individuals traveling 30-50 yards/meters apart

  • Milling - surfacing in constantly varying directions while remaining in the same area

  • Porpoising - traveling at high speed with the majority of their bodies breaking the surface and often creating a "V" of spray alongside their bodies (at top speed, an orca can rise up to seven feet above the water's surface and leap 30-35 feet horizontally)​

  • Split - individual, or group, who move away from another individual or a group​

  • Spread Out - predominately traveling as individuals and separated by distances of 100 yards/meters, or more

  • Superpod - when all three Resident pods (J, K, L) are together​

  • Tight - traveling in a group who are almost in physical contact with one another​

  • Travel Fast - traveling at a speed of more than five knots​

  • Travel Medium - traveling at a speed of three to five knots

  • ​Travel Slow - traveling at a speed of one to two knots

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