Grace and elegance of an orca whale breaching

There are a few things that make a LEGO model stand out if executed particularly well – life in motion, and organic shapes. This build by Timofey Tkachev does both well, with this killer whale in an iconic breaching display. It is strange to know that to date, we have little knowledge on why whales perform this elegant dance of the waves, with only guesses on what it could mean. We still enjoy their majestic maneuvers nevertheless – and find ourselves amazed by it not only in real life but with this cleverly constructed jump that almost seems to be defying gravity.

4 Killer whale

2 comments on “Grace and elegance of an orca whale breaching

  1. Purple Dave

    We do actually know some aspects of why whales and such clear the surface, and we have educated guesses for some others.

    Of all the different classifications of surface-breaching behavior, porpoising is probably best understood. It essentially comes down to physics as it’s only done at high speeds. If you’re not moving, it takes a lot more energy to jump out of the water than sit still. If you’re moving very fast, water causes more drag than air, so there is a speed at which it takes less energy to leap than to just swim. Porpoising also provides significant opportunity to breathe without having to slow down or stop, and the increased exertion will require more frequent breaths.

    Spyhopping (suspending in a vertical orientation with the head clear of the surface) is also pretty easy to understand as it’s commonly seen when orcas stalk prey on icebergs. They can see if there’s a tasty seal on the berg before starting to rock it from side to side, in an attempt to dislodge the seal. It’s also a way to see activity above the surface that may be worth checking out (lots of birds usually means there’s food), and a few species of shark have even been documented doing this.

    Lunging (clearing less than half of the body) doesn’t seem to have much purpose and may simply be the unintended result of swimming near he surface (especially around large waves).

    Proper breaching (as this depicts) has a few possible reasons that have been theorized. Young calves do it, but young land mammals are also known to jump around, so this may just be a form of play. If there is any twisting, it may be intended to dislodge parasites. Slamming into the water can exert up to 700x the weight of the animal in force, which is quite a bit for an orca. But the one I read about a month or two back was that they had determined that a breaching whale crashing into the water can be heard much farther away than even the humpback’s song, so it could be a means of signaling over great distances.

Comments are closed.