Bubble-Feeding Humpback Whales. Point Lobos State Reserve, California. September 3, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
Bubble-feeding humpback whales break the surface at Point Lobos State Reserve, California
I had the morning free, so I got up early and did the counter-commute drive down to Point Lobos, where I had heard that whales had been spotted very close to these shoreline during the past week or so. Arriving there I quickly surveyed the water and spotted huge groups of sea birds above slightly turbulent water, a reliable indicator of places where whales might appear. I headed out to a high bluff with a good panoramic view of the area and almost immediately spotted whale spots and soon the whales themselves. As the fish (which might have been anchovies or something similar?) move closer to the shore, the birds followed, and soon whales (and dolphins and seal lions) also appeared.
I’m far from being an expert on marine mammals, but I’m learning! This past year or so has provided some wonderful opportunities. I have long known about gray whale migrations in the area, but I learned that while the grays tend to move past on their way to places north or south, the humpback whales follow the food and will hang out in one place when it is present… as it currently is around here. I’ve also learned about their remarkable group “bubble-feeding” behavior, where they team up and use some remarkable strategies to corral fish. Some of them will apparently surround a school of fish. Then another whale goes beneath the school and emits a tremendously loud sound that sends them upwards. Meanwhile, another whale circles and blows bubbles into the water. The climax is the moment when the whole group may suddenly burst vertically through the surface of the water, full “throats” and mouths extended and full of water and fish.
G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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