Humpback whales are known for their energetic breaching displays, and this one is quite the showoff!

Photographer and SCUBA diver Craig Capehart recently captured the "humpback hover", a remarkable full-body breach, off South Africa's Eastern Cape.

Capehart and his colleagues were out on the water hoping to intersect the annual Sardine Run, a mass migration of baitfish that attracts a plethora of hungry predators to the area each year.

"Sadly, our six or seven hours daily on the water entail mostly waiting, waiting, and waiting a little longer until we find the elusive sardine bait ball," he wrote on YouTube. "Entertaining us while we wait [were] migrating humpback whales. This day, there were few sardine sightings but the whales seemed to be everywhere!"

The whale's aerial antics were so impressive, in fact, that some commenters questioned the video's authenticity – but this behaviour is well known among humpbacks. University of Alaska biologist Jan Straley, who has been studying humpback whales and other large cetaceans since 1979, explains that each individual has its own take on the signature leap. 

"This is typical breaching behaviour," she says. "That is twisting mid-air. All whales will have a personal style, and apparently this whale is a backflipper!"

The manoeuvre is sometimes accompanied by a full twist, as seen in this clip from California's Mission Bay:

Other humpbacks prefer the classic "back dive":

Leaping performances might be common, but the angle and clarity of Capeheart's footage, combined with this individual's unique flying flukes, make for a beautiful sighting indeed.

Humpback whales are seen in South African waters between May and November, as they move to and from their breeding grounds off Mozambique and Angola. Last year's migration proved particularly impressive, with groups of 60 or more stopping off together

Southern-hemisphere humpbacks don't typically feed here, moving instead towards Antarctica's cold, nutrient-rich waters. Once there, they'll feast at the edge of the pack ice during the summer months.


Top header image: Pixabay