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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