Blue Whales Are Surprisingly Acrobatic

Written by on November 30, 2012 in Marine Life

Emily Tripp

Adult blue whale.  Photo Credit: NOAA.

Adult blue whale. Photo Credit: NOAA.

The blue whale is the world’s largest creature ever to exist. New research shows that these massive creatures, growing almost to 100 feet long and weighing 200 tons, can complete a full 360 degree roll.  Editor’s note–Thanks, Dan, for providing us with an amazing video showing that blue whales aren’t the only rorqual whales who can complete a 360 degree roll.

Blue whales are known for lunge-feeding, a method that allows them to gulp up to 100 tons of water and krill in less than 10 seconds. But, by attaching suction cup sensor tags to blue whales that were foraging off the coast of southern California, lead author Jeremy Goldbogen of Cascadia Research Collective and his colleagues found that this isn’t the whale’s only feeding tactic.

The whale starts with a “180-degree roll prior to mouth opening, when the lunge occurs as the whale opens its mouth and engulfs the prey-laden water, which in this case is krill,” Goldbogen told Discovery News.

Then, there is “a further 180-degree roll in the same direction to complete the 360-degree spin. This maneuver is powered by several powerful fluke strokes and the tilting of the animal’s flippers,” he continued.

The sensors recorded the roll while the whales were feeding and while they were searching between lunges.

“We think that this behavior improves the whale’s chances of engulfing the most amount of krill possible,” said Goldbogen.  “The whales spin over and engulf the krill patch while inverted, from below,” as a way to avoid detection by the krill.

Goldbogen said that he and his team “did not expect to see these types of maneuvers in blue whales and it was truly extraordinary to discover.”

Blue whales.

Blue whales. Photo credit: Dan Shapiro, NOAA.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. Dan Knaub says:

    This is wonderful and majestic but just not true. The most active and acrobatic species is the humpback whale.

    I have recorded them rolling 360 degrees while feeding, in the air (breaching) and simply approaching boats for a visit.

    They stand on their heads, do somersaults and a few have learned to back out of the water tail first.

    For video evidence, visit the danthewhaleman channel on youtube and search for the clip “5 Awesome Whale Behaviors” I’m creating to justify my comment here.

  2. Emily says:

    Thank you for the correction, Dan. That video is fantastic. Thanks for making and sharing it with us!