Witness 4 Humpback Whales Coordinate a Magical “Whale Dance” and Discover the Meaning

Written by Katie Melynn Wood
Updated: September 25, 2023
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Synchronized swimmers may put on spectacular shows in a pool but they’ve got nothing on this group of four humpback whales who orchestrated a coordinated “dance” in the ocean waters of New England.

These whales were bubble feeding south of Martha’s Vineyard. The aerial observation team took photos and video while conducting a survey of nearby wind energy locations. They didn’t expect to see such an amazing display from such a large group of humpback whales. When they recognized one of the whales, the encounter became even more special.

The New England Aquarium posted photos of the amazing marine mammals to their Instagram, sharing that they spotted one of the whales their team recognized in the formation. Salt is a humpback whale identified by the white speckles on her dorsal fin. She has been seen in this area since the 1970s. Because of her unique markings, Salt is easier to identify than many other humpbacks. Typically, their distinguishing markings are under their tails, which can be harder to distinguish from the air.

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Due to tracking information and surveys like this one, the Aquarium knows that Salt has given birth to at least 16 calves since first being spotted in the 70s. In these pictures, she was seen with four other whales as they fed.

Mysterious Gray Animals - whale

A Humpback whale swimming close to the surface. These gray animals communicate with a series of intricate sounds.

©iStock.com/Yann-HUBERT

Why Do Whales Dance?

Whales move and communicate in many ways in the ocean. This particular instance was actually bubble feeding. When bubble feeding, whales dive into the water and blow bubbles. As the bubbles make their way to the surface, fish are forced up as well. This makes it easier for the whales to capture them as food. In a way, they herd the small fish to an area that makes them easier prey.

Humpbacks often coordinate these efforts to be more effective. Like cowboys working to herd cattle on a ranch, the whales communicate to force fish into a smaller and smaller area. When they are ready, the whales enjoy a tasty meal.

The result seen from the surface is coordinated bubbles that create patterns, such as circular shapes seen in some of the photos from the Aquarium’s team. There are also great pictures of multiple whales swimming close together.

Humpback whales are also known for breaching. They hurl their massive bodies out of the water and land back in with a giant splash. They do this to communicate with each other and show their dominance to other whales attempting to take over their space. Typically, humpbacks feed in the summer months. They migrate to southern, warmer waters to mate during the winter months.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/srhtkn


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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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