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Gulp! Three Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are caught in the act of cooperative bubblenet feeding for herring. The open mouthed whales have just lunged to the surface, scooping herring into their mouths. In this photo two of the humpbacks’ lower jaw throat pleats can be seen; they are fully distended in the whale on the left. One can see baleen plates lining the inside of the upper jaw of the lunging whale on the right. During the ongoing bubblenetting session this group of humpback whales worked back and forth adjacent to the rocky walls of the fjord, which created a beautiful backdrop while the hungry humpbacks herded herring.

Spring in Southeast Alaska signals wildlife to awaken from its winter doldrums. The arrival of mild weather brings huge shoals of herring up from cold ocean depths to more shallow Southeast Alaskan waters where the fish are intent upon spawning. Famished after a long, lean winter predators such as whales, eagles and gulls, sea lions, seals and other creatures eagerly await the herring’s return.

In Southeast Alaska and the very northern waters of Vancouver Island’s Inside Passage groups of humpback whales numbering from two to occasionally two dozen have established a unique coordinated feeding pattern called Cooperative Bubblenet Feeding. First a bubblenetting whale blows bubbles to trap herring within a circular wall of churned up, aerated water. Meanwhile another humpback commences calling a series of trumpeted shrieks and eerie ascending scales (click on the BUBBLENET CALL LINK to hear a recorded humpback bubblenet call courtesy of Alaska Sea Adventures ). At a coordinated signal the feeding humpback whales charge open-mouthed toward the surface in a synchronized group lunge. The trapped herring are scooped up by the humpbacks’ massive distended lower jaws. Closing their jaws around the herring, the whales’ expanded throat pleats compress, squeezing water from the whales’ mouths, leaving the the herring trapped in the whales’ baleen inside their huge mouths. A swish or two of the tongue and the herring are swallowed by hungry whales. Then, after several deep breaths the humpback group dives once more; the entire process begins all over again.

For an excellent video explanation of humpback whale cooperative bubblenetting please click onto this link, HUMPBACK WHALE COOPERATIVE BUBBLENET VIDEO, for a brief excerpt from the excellent documentary Fellowship of the Whales in which Drs. Fred Sharpe and Sean Hasser explain this method of feeding.

May 3, 2012

Southeast Alaska (Inside Passage), USA

Canon 7D, Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lens, Canon 1.4x extender, 1/640, f/4.0, Focal length 280, ISO 200

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It is my sincere wish that visitors to my portfolio experience the beauty and wonder of nature. Moreover my hope is that my photographs will inspire viewers to be proactive toward the protection of wildlife and its habitat, those efforts ultimately making a far better world for all beings.

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Comments

  • Angelika Sielken
    Angelika Sielkenover 2 years ago

    incredible, they almost blend with the rock behind, such a treasured photo!

  • Thank you, Angelika. Bubblenetting humpbacks are welcome in my book anywhere they decide to put on a show but I was very happy to have an interesting backdrop such as the rock walls of the fjord. Thanks for paying a visit to the whales! Best, G

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

  • Bunny Clarke
    Bunny Clarkeover 2 years ago

    How wonderful. Gorgeous capture.

  • Hi, Bunny! Thank you so much. While I am enamored with all wildlife, it’s whales that I enjoy most of all. Glad you dropped by! Best, G

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

  • Sandra Fortier
    Sandra Fortierover 2 years ago

    I’m in awe. All I ever got in the way of a whale photo was a tail! LOL! Beautiful capture and great info.

  • Sandra, thank you. Keep trying with the whales. Believe me, there are so many times when nothing much happens out on the water and then all of a sudden, BLAM! The whales do something outstanding. Believe me I have plenty of distant whale tails or backs that look like floating islands or splashes where the whale breach I just missed occurred…:-)) It just takes time, patience, a great boat captain and cooperative whales. Best to you! G PS I’m delighted you read the information. I enjoy when people find something worthwhile about an image but I also love to pass along something interesting about my subject, particularly when it comes to whales.

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

  • Larry Trupp
    Larry Truppover 2 years ago

    Beautiful work…neat catch Gina

  • Hi, Larry! Thank you for your kind words and for the warm welcome into your group. Much appreciated! G

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

  • Rocksygal52
    Rocksygal52over 2 years ago

    Awesome capture Gina.

    Cheers Jude x

  • Hi, Jude! Thank you so very much. Great hearing from you again! Hugs, G

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

  • Betty Mackey
    Betty Mackeyover 2 years ago

    Terrific, great to see it.

  • Hi, Betty! The whales were good to me this Spring and I thank them for the gift of their presence. Hugs, G :-))

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

  • AuntDot
    AuntDotover 2 years ago

    So nice to see more of your wonderful whales, Gina! So beautiul and always an education. Great work, my friend!

  • Dot, thank you so much! The whales were very active; I believe I have enough bubblenetting photos to wallpaper a room. :-)) I appreciate that you took time to have a look at the description of the image. You know me, always trying to turn others into whale geeks! I truly appreciate your support. You always spread sunshine in the world and I thank you for that….G

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

  • virginian
    virginianover 2 years ago

    Beautiful image! I watched them on the Animal Channel and they are amazing.

  • Thank you! All those animal documentaries bring lumps to my throat; wildlife continually amazes me. I appreciate you stopping by to comment. Best to you, G :-))

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

  • Qnita
    Qnitaover 2 years ago


    2012/05/25

  • Thank you for your warm welcome into your group! Cheers, G :-))

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

  • Rickster1
    Rickster1over 2 years ago

    Breathtakin experience Gina ~ Gotta do this before I die!
    Such presence
    Rick

  • Rick, yes you must see the whales bubblenetting. It’s quite an experience. One can hear the feeding calls of the whales through the hull of one’s boat or via a hydrophone in the water. Sometimes the calls are so loud one knows the whales are very close at hand. Watch for birds to swoop over an area of the ocean for that often signals the bubbles and whales are rising to the surface below the excited hungry birds. When the whales burst through the surface of the water it’s quite breathtaking. I’ll always remember the first time I ever saw this behavior and I’ll never tire of watching it. Best to you, G

    – Gina Ruttle (Whalegeek)

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