Energetic and Physical Limitations on the Breaching Performance of Large Whales

The considerable power needed for large whales to leap out of the water may represent the single most expensive burst maneuver found in nature. However, the mechanics and energetic costs associated with the breaching behaviors of large whales remain poorly understood. In this study we deployed whale-borne tags to measure the kinematics of breaching to test the hypothesis that these spectacular aerial displays are metabolically expensive. We found that breaching whales use variable underwater trajectories, and that high-emergence breaches are faster and require more energy than predatory lunges. The most expensive breaches approach the upper limits of vertebrate muscle performance, and the energetic cost of breaching is high enough that repeated breaching events may serve as honest signaling of body condition. Furthermore, the confluence of muscle contractile properties, hydrodynamics, and the high speeds required likely impose an upper limit to the body size and effectiveness of breaching whales.


Segre, P.S., J. Potvin, D.E. Cade, J. Calambokidis, J. Di Clemente, F.E. Fish, A.S. Friedlaender, W.T. Gough, S.R. Kahane-Rapport, C. Oliveira, S.E. Parks, G.S. Penry, M. Simon, A.K. Stimpert, D.N. Wiley, K.C. Bierlich, P.T. Madsen, and J.A. Goldbogen. 2020. Energetic and Physical Limitations on the Breaching Performance of Large Whales. eLife 9: e51760. doi: 10.7554/elife.51760

Download PDF
Download Supplemental Materials