Bubble Net Feeding

It is one of those spectacles of nature that you will never forget. I have seen a total solar eclipse, a meteor storm, calving glaciers, flash floods, come eye-to-eye with a grizzly bear, and I have witnessed bubble net feeding.

Bubble Net Feeding
A pod of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) bubble net feeding in Iyoukeen Cove
Imagine half a dozen 40 ft whales surfacing together, rearing out of the water with mouths agape, so closely packed it is difficult to tell one whale from the next in the chum of whale and churning water.

It is the last part of a carefully coordinated feeding maneuver that we see at the surface. One or two whales trap a school of herring by means of a circular wall of bubbles blown underwater. The whales swim in a tight circle, forcing the prey into a tight ball. Once the setup is complete the entire pod of whales charge vertically through the net, sweeping through the bait ball with open mouths. They all come up together at the end, with ventral pleats distended, full of water and herring to be filtered through the baleen.

The process is often repeated several times as the whales eat their fill. For the spectator the challenge it to guess where they will come up. If you want good photos it is necessary to be aimed and ready when the whales erupt from the water. To do this you must watch the birds. There is often a flock of gulls awaiting the whales, hoping to scoop up dazed herring forced to the surface in the net. From their vantage point well above the water the gulls see the net before you do, the entire wheeling flock suddenly heads in one direction, that is where.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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