Bubble Net Feeding Humpback Whales

I was fortunate to spend much of July in Alaska. It's a beautiful place, one characterised by wide-open vistas and unspoiled panoramas.

My purpose in visiting was to seek out humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) engaged in bubble net feeding, a social foraging technique that involves multiple whales executing a coordinated strategy of herding and consuming large quantities of fish, primarily herring from what I can tell. Considering how large humpbacks are and how murky the water is, planning and executing a team effort like this is no small feat.

I'm out the door again soon, so I don't have time to write as much as I want, but following is a series of photos to give you an idea of what it's like to witness this incredible event, starting with a view of a group just emerging from the water:

Humpback whales bubble net feeding
Humpback whales bubble net feeding. The middle one is the leader. (License image)

Zoom-in a bit, and you can see the baleen plates hanging down:

humpback whales bubble net feeding
See the baleen plates hanging down? (License image)

Zoom-out to gain perspective on the surroundings, and to see how tight and disciplined the whales' formation can be (they don't always come up so perfectly):

humpback whales bubble net feeding
See how perfect the formation is? (License image)

We were able to avoid tourist boats for the most part, though on some days, the whales just wanted to be where the big boats were:

humpback whales bubble net feeding
Tourists watching humpback whales feeding (License image)

In one particularly funny incident, all the passengers on one of the big boats pictured above were on the port side. A group of whales burst forth from the water about 20m away on their starboard side. A mad dash of dozens from left to right ensued, with boat leaning first one way, then the other. I don't think the passengers saw much, but at least they had a fun story to take home with them.

Here are couple of whales with mouths open, backlit by late-evening light:

humpback whales bubble net feeding
Humpback whales bubble net feeding, backlit by evening sun (License image)

A fluke sandwich:

humpback whale flukes, alaska
Synchronised fluking by a pair of humpbacks (License image)

Sneaky whale popping up right behind us!:

humpback whale head-on view
"Coming through!" said the humpback to the humans (License image)

View straight-down the throat of the lead whale in one group, bathed by the warm evening light of summer in Alaska:

humpback whales bubble net feeding
Humpback whales bubble net feeding near shore (License image)

Whales breached from time to time, often just once though, which makes it difficult to photograph them. I got really lucky with this one:

humpback whale breaching, alaska
This whale breached only one time (License image)

And to wrap-up, this will give you an idea what the ports are like. This is Auke Bay, which gets pretty busy in the summer, but still manages to be picturesque:

Auke Bay, Alaska
Auke Bay, Alaska (License image)

One last photo, a picture I found while looking back through files from my first visit to Alaska back in 2012. Some day, maybe I'll have time to process more of those photos.

humpback whales bubble net feeding
Humpback whales bubble net feeding, snowcapped mountains in background (License image)

Big thanks to Jon, Dave, Pat, Kumiko, Rinko, Keiko, Akiko, Rimiko, Yuko, Tomoko and Makoto for a terrific trip!