Spinner dolphins have a behavior where they jump out of the water and spin a bunch of times in the air. Wikipedia's article on this just states

These spins may serve several functions

and doesn't anything. Are there any known reasons for their extreme spinning behavior?


2 Answers 2


No single factor is considered to be the reason for the aerial spinning behavior (Hester et al., 1963; Norris and Dohl, 1980; Norris et al., 1994). The various factors include leadership or dominance, alertness, acoustic communication, courtship display, defining positions of members in the school, and dislodging ectoparasites. The most notable ectoparasites are remoras and whalesuckers (order Perciformes, family Echeneidae). ... Hester et al. (1963) suggested that the aerial maneuvers executed by spinner dolphins are involved in the removal of remoras. ... While aerial spinning maneuvers may not have developed specifically to remove ectoparasites like remoras, dynamically it is plausible that this proves to be an added benefit.

--Dynamics of the aerial maneuvers of spinner dolphins


From Lammers - Spinner dolphins of islands and atolls, Ethology and Behavioural Ecology of Odontocetes, 2019 (https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/978-3-030-16663-2.pdf) :

Invariably, the question arises: Why do they do it? Probably the most common answer is to rid themselves of parasites, including remoras (Hester et al. 1963; Norris and Dohl 1980; Norris et al. 1994b). However, this answer alone is rather unsatisfying, as most odontocetes face the problem of parasites yet do not display the acrobatic aptitude of spinner dolphins. Thus, additional explanations are necessary that account for the spinner dolphin’s distinct behavioral ecology. Norris et al. (1994b) proposed that the bubble plume produced underwater by reentering spinning dolphins would offer a strong target for echolocating pod-mates and therefore serve as a beacon of sorts to help define the envelope of the pod or perhaps act as a target to more distant subgroups.

Similarly, the reentry sound produced by a leaping dolphin could serve as an Fig. 17.3 A collated sequence of a spinner dolphin, Stenella longirostris, performing a spinning leap. This sequence was taken from Twitter, with permission by the Wyland Foundation. In this compilation of a video sequence, the leap begins on the right side, and the dolphin turns on its axis two times, until it lands to the left. Leaps can be in this vertical stance, but also horizontally to the water, and can incorporate over three turns of the body axis while in-air 380 M. O. Lammers omnidirectional cue to nearby animals. Still, these explanations probably cannot reconcile the large variety of aerial behaviors in the spinner dolphin repertoire. Perhaps an additional clue lies in the fact that behavioral state can be inferred from the pod’s aerial displays. Thus, it may be that spinners use aerial displays to regulate the pod’s state in their perpetual effort to achieve and maintain group cohesion. These acrobatic leaps are perhaps designed as a signal of group social cohesion for entering or leaving a bay, or for signaling an after-feeding “party mood” as has been suggested for dusky dolphins (Würsig and Würsig 1980).


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