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Spyhopping facts for kids

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When spyhopping, the whale rises and holds a vertical position partially out of the water, often exposing its entire rostrum and head. It is visually akin to a human treading water. Spyhopping is controlled and slow, and can last for minutes at a time if the whale is sufficiently inquisitive about whatever it is viewing. Generally, the whale does not appear to swim by fluke propulsion to maintain its "elevated" position while spyhopping, instead relying on exceptional buoyancy control and positioning with pectoral fins. Typically the whale's eyes will be slightly above or below the surface of the water, enabling it to see whatever is nearby on the surface. The great white shark and oceanic whitetip shark have also been known to spyhop.

Spyhopping often occurs during a "mugging" situation, where the focus of a whale's attention is on a boat, such as whale-watching tours, which they sometimes approach and interact with. On the other hand, spyhopping among orcas is thought to be for predation reasons, as they are often seen around ice floes in order to view if prey species such as seals are resting on them. When prey is detected the individual will conduct a series of spy-hops from different locations around it, then vocalise to the group members to do the same to possibly prepare for an attack. In this instance a spyhop may be more useful than a breach, because the view is held steady for a longer period of time. Often when cetaceans breach, their eyes do not clear the water, which suggests it might not be used for looking but instead for hearing. For example, gray whales will often spy-hop in order to hear better when they are near the line where waves begin to break in the ocean as this marks out their migration route. It can therefore be said that spy-hopping behaviour is used for many different reasons across a wide range of species.

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