Humpback Whales Bubble Net Feeding off of Juneau, Alaska
Howdy folks! Miss O’Cosm and I are just back from a trip through the Inside Passage of Southeastern Alaska. I have a lot to tell you – especially about the magnificent Native American cultures of the Pacific Northwest. I had the great good fortune to connect with the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Kwakwaka’wakw peoples, and will have a great deal more to say about it in the near future.
We also had a marvelous time with the wildlife of the Alaskan coast. One highlight was seeing a bald eagle by the South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm – it flew perhaps ten feet above us with a large salmon in its claws, followed closely by a few dozen arctic terns, who harried the eagle out of their territory with a great chorus of their ghostly cries.
But the big winner was our evening whale watching excursion out of Juneau – we saw around ten orcas within minutes of leaving the dock.
Not long after that, we came upon a pod of ten humpback whales engaged in bubble net feeding, which is a cooperative hunting technique in which groups of whales ensnare vast amounts of herring or mackerel in enormous bubble nets.
The group of whales swims in formation beginning around 60 feet blow the surface, spiraling upwards while exhaling from their blow holes. This creates a huge cylinder of bubbles that traps the fish. The whales then surge upward from below with their mouths open, swallowing enormous amounts of food and breaking the surface in a stunning display.
We saw the whales perform this behavior about eight times in the course of forty-five minutes or so. Here are two videos that I took of this incredible behavior.
Note that these animals are forty to fifty tons each. In this next video, they’re so close that you can see the bubbles coming right up by the side of the boat, which made us a bit nervous! And if you watch to the end, you’ll see a magnificent display of their flukes as they paddle off.
Sadly, something that I couldn’t capture in these videos is the songs. We had a hydrophone in the water, and on several instances the whales sang a short, intense song just before bursting to the surface.