Thursday, January 03, 2008

Dinner time in Southeast Alaska

August and September, 2007

One of the events that has me returning year after year to Southeast Alaska is watching and filming humpback whales as they cooperatively bubble-net feed on small fishes such as herring. In my mind I play out the ritual of these huge leviathans coming together with a strategy in these dark waters to outsmart a small fish. I mean think about it, literally hundreds and hundreds of tons of whales working together to catch a tiny fish that only weigh a few ounces each!

Coordinating these intricate moves among such large animals is really mind-boggling...

Can you imagine 20 humans trying to do the same thing? It would go something like this; "OK guys, we are going to all swim together underneath our prey, blow bubbles in a circular pattern to corral the fish, then rush towards the surface side-by-side and open our mouths up at the very last second to trap the fish. AND we are going to do all this so close to one another that if a fish manages to get away from one of us then it will end up in the mouth of another." Yeah, right!

Yet that is exactly what happens time after time with these groups of whales. Research is also showing that it happens year after year with the same animals and that only a very small percentage of humpback whales in this area have developed this wonderful trick for catching their prey by the mouthfuls.

Each animal knows just where it belongs in the group, and what its role is for the benefit of itself as well as all of the other humpbacks in the group.

When it all comes together it is a perfect ballet, a symphony conducted by true artists...

And of course the herring don't seem to have a chance. If you look closely at this image you will notice the tiny fishes trying to jump out of the open mouth of this humpback. Note: the pink part is actually the upper pallette, where the baleen plates act as seives to trap the fish.

Humans from all walks of life have been enjoying these feeding events for years now. Perhaps you might come to Southeast Alaska and witness it for yourself? You won't be dissappointed...

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