How Do Whales Communicate?

Whales communicate in a number of different ways including creating sounds and using their body to communicate to other whales their intentions.

A male humpback whale for instance only sings when it is looking for a female to mate with.

It is believed that singing is how they communicate to female whales that they are fit and a good choice for mating.

Sperm whales and dolphins on the other hand create unique clicking sounds that appear to be used to communicate who they are to the rest of the whales in the group as well as various intentions.

Communication and sounds created by whales differ from one whale species to another.

There are two primary types of whales that produce sounds in different ways.

Toothed whales

The toothed whale communicates using high frequency clicking sounds and whistles.

Single clicks are typically used for echolocation while multiple clicks are often used to communicate to other whales/dolphins in the area.

Little is scientifically known about the meaning of the clicks and whistles other than the fact that it is used to communicate and echo locate.

Baleen whales

The baleen whale communicates by using long, low-frequency sounds and some whales such as the humpback and blue whale can produce melodic tones which scientist call whale songs due to the fact that these sounds create melody’s similar to music composed by humans.

Ambient sounds may be endangering whales

Due to the way water absorbs light (hindering the ability to see accurately) and limits smell whales have to rely largely on sound.

While water may limit some senses sound travels about four times as quickly than it would above the water making it extremely important to the whale species in terms of survival.

Some scientists are concerned that sounds being created by manmade ships, sonar and other marine tools may hinder the whales ability to communicate and echo-locate which is extremely important for survival.


Echolocation is a biological sonar that whales use to determine their distance to nearby objects.

Because of the fact that vision is extremely limited underwater and sound carries a much stronger and favorable role echolocation is vital to its survival.

Echolocation works by creating a high or low-pitched sounds and measuring the time it takes for the sound to bounce off of nearby objects and back to its hosts location.

In other words whales measure how far an object is by how long it takes for the sound to get back to them.

Echolocation is used largely amongst the toothed whale species and was previously thought to only exist amongst toothed whales.

It wasn’t until recent that scientists started exploring the possibility of baleen whales having this capability due to interesting data suggesting that these marine mammals also use echolocation to navigate the ocean.

Whale surfacing behavior

Whales use a combination of different surfacing behaviors such as spy hopping, lob-tailing and breaching and are believed to display this type of behavior to show dominance, communicate a desire to mate and warn other whales of nearby dangers.


Spyhopping occurs when a whale surfaces partly above the surface of the water for an extended amount of time fully exposing its head and generally keeping its eyes slightly above or below the water so that it can observe its surroundings.

Spyhopping is believed to be used to watch for predators and keep the whale alert to its surroundings.

Lob-tailing (Slapping)

Lob-tailing is when a whale or dolphin lifts its flukes or flippers out of the water and slaps it hard against the water creating a loud slapping noise.

This slapping may be used to show aggression, warn nearby whales of danger and/or communicate with other whales.

Dolphins have also been trained by humans to lob-tail as a form of communication and to indicate a need or desire, such as to request food from a trainer or as a playful gesture.


Breaching occurs when a whale lunges itself out of the water exposing at least 40% of its entire body above the water.

Breaching has also been observed as a form of social interaction and can be used to display aggression, warn others of nearby danger or during courtship to display a desire to mate.

Due to the large size and weight of the whale breaching causes large disturbances in the water which make it’s actions unmistakable to other whales in the ocean that are either above or beneath the water and can be used as an effective signaling method to communicate to other whales.

In conclusion

Whales can vary greatly in terms of their level of communication and active nature depending on their species.

Some species are solitary and prefer traveling alone while other species spend their lives with family and friends only leaving their pods for short periods of time.

The methods these whales use to communicate can be as diverse as the various species of whale that exist.