Recognizing Surface Behavior

What to look for on your Maui whale watching tour.


The most common surface activity you’ll see is when a whale breathes. The air forced out of its blow hole comes out with a blast, clearing all seawater. The cloud of mist can be seen for miles. It’s said that the mixture of ocean water and whale fluids can be toxic to humans, so if it blows on to you, try not to inhale and make sure to wash off.

Fluke Up Dives

This is often the best way to identify a Humpback whale. The fluke is the tail of the whale. It is often indicitive of a less than vertical dive and therefore more shallow dive than the fluke up.

Fluke Down Dives

A Fluke Down Dive is much like the Fluke up only the surface of the tail is less exposed and folded over. Most people think that they’re diving deep, which may not be the case. A peduncle arch is more indicative of a whale diving into deeper waters. Fluke up and down dives are usually made for smaller shallow dives.

Pec Slap

During a pec slap, a Humpback will lie on their side or back and slap their long fin along the top of the water. This is one of the many behaviors that you’ll see whales doing repetitively.

Tail Slap

Humpback whales will sit vertically in the water while slapping their flukes against the surface. This is another activity that whales will do over and over again. It’s common to see Maui Humpbacks slapping their tales dozens of times in a row.

Spy Hop

Wouldn’t you like to know and see more about Humpback whales? Sometimes, it seems a whale may feel the same about you. In performing a spy hop the humpback will stand vertically with its head just out of the water. They may then slowly turn to look around, then drop back down in the water.

Head Slap or Lunge

A head slap or Lunge is when the whale juts out of the water forcing their head down on the surface with a large splash. Some believe they do this to loosen parasites that may have attached themselves to their skin. Others maintain that this is a communication behavior. No one knows for sure, but we all enjoy watching it.

Peduncle Throw

One of the more powerful and aggressive behaviors a Humpback whale can perform is a Peduncle Throw. This is when the whale throws the lower portion of its body, including its flukes sideways across the surface of the water. Not a particularly common thing to see, the power involved is awe-inspiring.

Round out and Peduncle Arch

These are seen just before making a deeper descent. The whale will force its back out of the water in order to make a better and more vertical descent. This is often a sad thing to see when whale watching because they can stay down for 20 minutes or more at a time. Fortunately, during whale season in Maui there are many more whales nearby to enjoy.


One of the most exciting surface behaviors is a whale breach. This is when a whale will force most of its body from the water vertically and curve horizontally in the air, coming down with a massive crash. A breach can be performed in many ways, twisting and jutting in all directions. This is the ultimate maneuver to watch a whale do, and is suprisingly common to see.

Other Helpful Whale Articles

Find out how you can help save the whales by learning how to live a life filled with Kokua.

Learn simple and important Photography Tips for your next Maui whale watch.

Prepare yourself for your next whale watch with sime quick  Whale Watching Tips.


Enjoy the room and elevation afforded by a double decker catamaran, given unprecedented views. Expert marine naturalists will guide you through your whale watch and answer all your humpback questions.

Redline Rafting

Enjoy whale watching with Redline Rafting, which provides an exciting, up close and personal experience on a one-of-a-kind boat that will get you close to the water and whales!