Humpback whales use bubbles to screen their young, corral prey, and ward off aggressors, among other things. But do they have special bubble signatures used only when humans are present?

This young female whale approached my boat, then dove and began “drawing” with bubble curtains released in a thin stream from her blowhole. There was no food around and no other whales in sight. She rolled to one side so that she could look upward to admire her handiwork. Was she practicing making bubble structures that could be useful tools on the feeding grounds, or was she just enjoying the visual beauty of the scintillating bubble spirals? Was it art for art’s sake? Certainly, other animals, including captive dolphins, sea lions, rhinos, and elephants have learned to paint with brushes, and both wild bowerbirds and pufferfish produce visual art to impress potential mates.