Yes whales are able to jump and some species can even perform a number of areal stunts.
In fact various species of cetacea (cetaceans include whales, dolphins and porpoises) are are known for their acrobatic maneuvers and amazing gravity defying feats such as leaping several stories into their air, flipping, breaching the water and bow riding.
Although some larger whales are able to breach the water jumping is more commonly found among the smaller toothed whale species as their smaller size and lighter body makes it easier for them to leap out of the water and at much greater distances.
One of the many different acrobatic feats commonly seen among the larger baleen whale species is breaching which is somewhat similar to jumping but requires less of their body to be exposed above the surface of the water.
Breaching occurs when a whale rises to the surface and lifts at least 40% of its body out of the water.
At first breaching may not seem all that amazing but when you realize that some of these marine mammals weigh over 150 tons (300,000 lbs.) and they’re able to continually breach the water for several hours at a time you can see how impressive this ability really is.
Although breaching requires the whale to lift 40% of its body out of the water some baleen whale are able to expose as much as 90% of their bodies above the surface before they reestablish contact with the water.
Surprisingly these breaches only take up a small amount of the whales energy (less than 0.100%) but a large amount of breaches over a short period of time can eventually tire the whale out.
As you might expect when the whale makes contact with the water it makes an extremely loud thud and crash that can be heard from a great distance.
This loud noise can also be heard underwater and is believed to play a role in communication by allowing whales that are both at the surface and below the water to see and/or hear the whale that is breaching.
While the exact reasons for breaching are unknown it is assumed that breaching may be a way to signal a warning to other whales about possible threats and can also be used during mating periods by males to show their physical abilities in an attempt to attract a female.
What about big areal jumps?
As stated earlier some toothed whale species are known to perform big areal jumps and leaps.
This is most commonly seen among the dolphin species as dolphins are part of the toothed whale family and are well-known for their ability to jump, leap and flip out of the water.
In fact some dolphins are capable of jumping more than 25 ft. into the air!
In order to make such a big jump dolphins will pick up speed under the water then lift their bodies vertically towards the surface at a really fast speed in order to propel themselves out of the water.
Depending on the species some dolphins are able to reach speeds in excess of 25 mph for short bursts in order to escape a predator, capture food or leap out of the water.
Some dolphins are known for their elegant jumps where they silently leap into the air and dive back into the water at an angle that barely creates noise or disturbances in the water.
Due to their small size dolphins are ideal marine mammals for performing acrobatic feats and stunts.
Dolphins have even been trained at marine parks and live aquatic shows to perform their various acrobatic jumps and by the military to help them locate missing people and find underwater mines.
What other acrobatic stunts do whales perform?
In addition to breaching and jumping toothed whales are also known to perform a series of short jumps, flips, belly flops and bow ride waves.
Short jumps are sometimes performed as a group activity.
In large pods dolphins can be seen frequently leaping in and out of the water as they travel through the ocean.
These repetitive leaps can be seen as a form of play or communication and allows the dolphins to show off their leaping abilities to one another.
Flipping and belly flopping is pretty self explanatory.
A dolphin will generate speed under the water then jump into the air and perform a series of flips or belly flops while in the air before landing back in the water.
Bow riding typically involves a dolphin chasing a wave and riding the wave as long as they can.
These marine mammals may bow ride waves created by the ocean, boats or other marine mammals and tend to do it simply for the pleasure of riding the waves.
Aside from these forms of areal acrobatics whales are known to communicate by slapping their fins and flukes against the water in order to create noise and attract the attention of other marine mammals.
These noises may be used to warm other pod members, as a form of play or to inform the group about something important.
Do all cetaceans jump?
In addition to whales and dolphins, porpoise also fit into the toothed whale suborder, however they tend to be less acrobatic than some of the whale and dolphin species and are less likely to perform breaches, jumps and other acrobatic stunts.
It is also important to note that not all species of whale are known for performing acrobatic maneuvers.
Some whales prefer to live a very inactive, sedentary and docile lifestyle, and are more likely to shy away from people or log around the ocean’s surface than perform breaches, jumps, flips and areal performances.
While dolphins may be found at marine parks performing flips and various acrobatic stunts whales are way too large for aquariums, so the closest people will get to seeing large whales perform areal stunts is to participate in a local whale watching tour.
Areal jumps and communication
In terms of communication jumping is one of the many ways that whales communicate with each other.
Jumping can be used as a form of play, to maintain a good awareness of their environment and to show their youthfulness and health when trying to attract a mating partner among other things.
Whales are also known to communicate by spy hopping, charging at one another, lobtailing, and vocalizing through songs, moans, clicks and whistles in order to communicate their intentions to other whales.
By combining visual gestures such as jumping and breaching with vocal language whales have developed a very effective and sophisticated system for communicating a wide variety of interests to one another.