In the past few weeks our office has received numerous calls from concerned citizens about seeing a whale in distress. The whale observed is spending long periods of time at the surface with its flukes extended above the water’s surface. Some have conjectured that it is a whale using its tail flukes to sail; others have suggested it is attempting to cool down using its tail as a thermoregulatory device.
We believe a different hypothesis to be true. The whale with the extended flukes is most likely a female humpback with a newborn calf. The mother is resting while still allowing her calf access to her mammary glands (located near the posterior portion of her body some 6-8 feet from her flukes). By extending her tail into the air she is able to keep her body relatively close to the surface, allowing her to rest while minimizing dive depths for her young calf. The calf is then able to nurse at will and expend less energy.