Right whale tail near a beachStudying right whale behavior is difficult because we only catch short glimpses of their behavior while they are at the surface. More than 80 percent of their time is spent below the surface. We can gain clues about their sub-surface behavior from things such as underwater microphones (hydrophones) and data tags attached to a few whales, as well as from whale dive times. Also, in some areas, whales return to the surface with mud on their heads, indicating that they swam to the ocean’s bottom during that dive.

While at the surface, right whales exhibit a variety of behaviors, including: breaching (jumping out of the water), fluking (lifting the tail out of the water), nursing, spy hopping (lifting the head out of the water), logging (resting), skim feeding, posturing and participating in surface active groups (SAG). The first five behaviors are exhibited by many whale species and are not explained here. The remaining three are less well known and deserve a brief description: