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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

We’re getting to know Risso’s dolphins in Scotland so we can protect them

Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...
Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

Talking crap and carcasses to protect our planet

We know we need to save the whale to save the world because they are...
Fin whale (balaenoptera physalus) Three fin whales Gulf of California.

Speaking truth to power – my week giving whales a voice

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting is where governments come together to make decisions about whaling...

Why do whales and dolphins strand on beaches?

People often ask me 'why' whales and dolphins do one thing or another.  I'm a...
A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

Head in a spin – my incredible spinner dolphin encounter

Sri Lanka is home to at least 30 species of whales and dolphins, from the...
Orca (ID171) breaches off the coast of Scotland © Steve Truluck.

Watching whales and dolphins in the wild can be life changing

Whales and dolphins are too intelligent, too large and too mobile to ever thrive in...
Kiska the orca

Real stories from the dark side of captivity

Since we launched our campaign, we've been talking a lot about what a dark place...

Can kick-feeding techniques in Gulf of Maine humpback whales determine personalities?

My name is Laine McCall and I’m a research intern for WDC. I began as a field research intern in the summer of 2015 and returned this summer to help WDC pilot a new behavior study.


This summer, WDC started data collection for a new study asking the question as to whether humpback whales have personalities.   Looking at personalities from a scientific point of view means looking at how individuals consistently behave differently over their lifetimes.  Trying to figure personality types of whales is a big challenge. We are starting by looking at how they eat, and specifically, a technique called kick-feeding.  When a humpback whale “kick-feeds”, they kick, or slap the water surface to disturb fish before they create bubble clouds or nets to entrap the fish in a tighter circle, allowing them a larger mouthful.  This behavior appears to be unique to humpback whales feeding in the Gulf of Maine and was first seen in the early 1980s.  This feeding method is also an example of how social learning can spread through the population of whales. These whales learned this feeding strategy from their peers, not from their mother when they were a calf, the same way you may have learned about a new band or television show.  Not all Gulf of Maine humpback whales kick-feed, however, some strictly create the bubble clouds or bubble nets without the initial kick.


 For this study, we are recording video footage to see if Gulf of Maine humpback whales, including many of the whales in our whale adoption family, display unique characteristics when they kick-feed. From what we’ve seen so far, there are some distinct differences between the kick-feeding styles of individuals with some whales kicking just once, while others “kick” several times before beginning the bubble net. Most of the whales have fast, forceful kicks while others are slower and more dramatic.   We don’t yet know if some of these differences are a factor of how deep the fish are, or the types of fish they are eating, or indeed if the whales are at different stages of learning how to kick-feed with the most efficiency. But so far, it does appear that individuals are consistent with their style.  We even suspect that some whale rarely (or never) kick, but reap the rewards of the kicking efforts of others and we need to investigate this further.

In the video below, can you pick up on any differences between Abrasion’s and Tornado’s kick-feeding styles?

Not that we here at WDC need to be convinced to appreciate whales, but learning about the social complexities of these fascinating whales can provide further evidence that these intelligent creatures deserve to be saved. I hope you’ll follow our updates on this project as it progresses, and consider supporting our work.

About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.