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Breach and Blow_Mark Malleson_Aug 17-2023_edited.jpg

A BREACH and a BLOW during 2023 OS Encounter #44 with J, K, and L pod members (Photograph by Mark Malleson). 


As whale watchers, you will observe orcas (killer whales) demonstrating many different Instantaneous and Prolonged maneuvers or behaviors. The physical actions described or shown below (or both) include the behavior name, what happens, and in some instances, explain why.
Instantaneous Behaviors

Instantan​eous Orca BEHAVIORS

All photographs and information on are Copyright © 2023 Center for Whale Research. 

When possible, the above Orca BEHAVIORS photographs are linked to the ORCA SURVEY Encounter. Learn the physical features of an orca at About ORCAS / APPEARANCE & MORPHOLOGY.

Instantaneous Orca BEHAVIORS


AERIAL SCANRaises its head at an angle starting from a horizontal position; it may do this to take a look above the surface.


BACK DIVELeaps out of the water, exposes two-thirds or more of its body, and lands on its back.


BELLY FLOP—Leaps out of the water, exposes two-thirds or more of its body, and lands on its ventral surface (i.e., stomach).

BLOW—Surfacing blowhole exhale before taking in a gulp of fresh air.


BREACH—Leaps out of the water, exposing two-thirds or more of its body, then lands on its side.


BURPAn above-surface vocalization that sounds like it’s “letting gas.”


BUBBLE BLOWINGBlowing bubbles while underwater; sometimes, the air released through its blowhole produces a sound.


CARTWHEELThrows its flukes, caudal peduncle, and rear part of its body from one side to another in at least a 45-degree arc (sometimes called a Peduncle Throw).


DORSAL FIN SLAPRolls on its side and hits the broad side of its dorsal fin on the surface with force.


FLUKE LIFTMoves its flukes up and down above the water surface in a fluid motion with no force; often seen in conjunction with kelping.


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; often observed when kelping.


HALF BREACH—Leaps out of the water and exposes only half of its body, landing on its side

INVERTED PECTORAL SLAPWhile 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 LOBOn its back, it raises its flukes above the water’s surface, bringing 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.


LUNGEBreaks the ocean surface 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)​.


MATINGA male inserts his 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 WAVELifts 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 beneficial for researchers in determining the sex of an orca).


SEA SNAKEThe pink penis of an adult male, which can attain a length of three feet.


SPYHOPRaises its head vertically above the water, at least above its eye level, perhaps to look around, and then slips back below the ocean surface.


TACTILE—Physical contact with another orca (e.g., caressing one another with their pectoral flippers or rubbing rostrums).


TAIL LOB/TAIL SLAP—Lifts its tail flukes above the water, bringing them down with force.


TAIL THRASHING—Violently thrashes a tail fluke through the water surface (often observed when in pursuit of prey).

All photographs and information on are Copyright © 2023 Center for Whale Research.