9 Oct

“Flying” beaked whales


Sensational video footage

© Michael Scheer/MEER e.V.

Berlin/La Gomera, October 2013. Off the Canary island of La Gomera, video footage was taken for the first time showing a spectacular behavior performed by beaked whales, a less investigated cetacean taxa. A group of animals was leaping with individual whales showing very high jumps several times in a row – a behavior rarely ever observed and difficult to explain.

Beaked whales are known to be shy and generally behave in an inconspicuous manner. They avoid ships, are sensitive to disturbance and spend most of their time below the surface. These less researched cetaceans dive extremely deep and for very long periods of time. In depths of more than 1,000 meters they go hunting for squid, thus regularly staying in the deep for an hour or longer. Even while at the surface, they are hard to spot and sometimes impossible to identify.


Very rare behaviour

Taking this into account it is more than surprising to see them leaping and breaching at times. We have observed such a behavior off La Gomera on a few occasions, but never with such intensity like can be seen on these video images. For some reason, in this situation this group of whales leaped once and again and again…

On the basis of photographic images taken during the short encounter it was not possibly to definitely identify the animals to the species level. It may have been Blainville’s beaked whales, a species commonly seen in the Canary Islands – there even appears to be a permanent population around the archipelago. But Gervais’ or True beaked whales are either possible, too.

Why did the whales leap?


© Michael Scheer/MEER e.V.

The reasons for their behaviour remain unclear, however. On the one hand you can speculate that the animals were returning to the surface after a long dive at high speed, but this would not explain why some individuals appear to perform repeated leaps and breaches. On the other hand, beaked whales are known to be highly sensitive to noise disturbance. The footage was taken from a large fast ferry. The underwater sound of the ship itself, or from a different yet unknown noise source could have irritated them.