Migrating Naturalist: Aquatic Grace

The above image was taken under NOAA-Fisheries Permit #587-1767-01

I recently watched the new award-winning film Black Swan, a psychological thriller about the intense world of ballet. As someone who practiced ballet as a child, I have always admired the grace and elegant artwork of dance, and have appreciated the physical challenges of this activity. However, I have a much greater admiration of another type of dance that I was reminded of while watching Black Swan, and that is humpback ballet.

If you think I’m messing with you right now, I can understand why, as it is hard to imagine a 40-ton animal dancing around underwater. However, this is exactly what humpback whales will do, although it is not a very common or well-known behaviour. What we call humpback ballet may be performed by one or several whales, but is most often seen from male and female pairs. It has commonly been observed shortly after the dissolution of a competitive group, once all other challengers have departed. This has led many to believe that the ballet is a prelude to mating, or possibly a post-coital celebration. However, these assumptions are as of yet simply theories, since as I mentioned in a previous blog, humpback mating has never actually been witnessed.

Once alone, the two principal performers will begin to twist and turn underwater, for apparently no reason other than the enjoyment and expression of it. These enormous creatures will move with astonishing elegance, curving around each other, moving very slowly, and with great care. One whale may gently extend a pectoral fin towards the other, arch its back, and slowly roll in three-dimensional space, all while remaining within touching distance of its partner. I have had the pleasure of watching a video of humpback ballet, and must tell you the radiant grace of their movement rivals even the highest works of art. I have always hoped to witness this curious and breathtaking display in person, and hope that someday I will get that chance. Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places, and the underwater ballet seen from humpbacks is yet another example of the boundless surprises that nature has in store for us, if we take the time to observe carefully.

One Response to “Migrating Naturalist: Aquatic Grace”

  1. Kathryn says:

    Excellent post! I can only dream of one day experiencing humpback whale ballet!!! I have enjoyed reading your blog immensely (your topics are riveting and very well written) and hope that you continue to post even when you return to Tofino.

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