Well where in the world do I start to tell you about yesterday? It will honestly come most likely in separate emails as to not make this one too long. I have to say that yesterday was my favorite day since we have been in Alaska. I feel like I have truly seen something that is extraordinarily special in our world. Although the day was special in itself, our lecture last night highlighted what we had seen previously.
I told you about seeing the whale’s bubble netting in our first email. Last night we had a PhD of whales come on board and he explained bubble netting and how the research is continuing about this extremely complicated process. First, after whaling ended there were only about 600 humpbacks left in the world. Last full count in 2006 there were 20,000 humpbacks in the world and they were able to track where the majority travel to give birth and then where they return to feed. There are approximately 6,000 whales that come to Southeast Alaska to feed and of those 6,000, there are only 50 that bubble feed and we saw 8 – 10 of them. Of course, we recognize the whales because of their tail flukes. Bubble feeders usually work in a group of eight whales. Is this all special or what!!!
The mother humpback whale actually goes five months without food so you can imagine that she is mighty hungry when she comes back to Southeast Alaska. I know I said Southwest in an email because this is the west coast, but when thinking about the entire state of Alaska, we are east of the main part of the state. Ok most humpbacks feed on krill. In fact most whales feed on krill. But there are a group of 50 whales that are bubble feeders. These whales feed on different small fish at particular times of the year when the fish are full of eggs which makes them a richer source of food. Also at this particular time in the life of the fish they swim at a depth that makes bubble feeding perfect.
OK to recap, one whale blows bubbles around the school of fish, several slap flippers around the outside of the bubble ring, and one makes sounds at the bottom of the bubble net. Then all at once, all eight whales swim up through the net, surface at once with mouths open and you have mayhem of whales gulping forty-eight beer coolers of water full of fish. Then they push the water out and feed on the fish. Then they repeat the process all during the day. At night they breach which is usually a sign that a particular behavior is over and the eight go their separate ways and rejoin in the morning to start working together again.
Now more amazing facts about humpbacks. We know they are extremely smart as they are the only animal on Earth other than humans that come together to work. Now you are thinking that lions and wolves hunt and work together and yes that is correct; but the lions and wolves that work together are related individuals. However, through DNA they know these whales are not related to one another which makes this bubble net feeding even more remarkable. Scientists are still not sure how they decide which whales has which job and why only this small group work in this way. Also it was previously thought that the life span of a humpback was around 50 years, now they know that they can live 100 years or more.
Definitely more to follow on yesterday later, especially our 6 passenger floatplane ride over a glacier in a very old float plane where the pilot was looking left and right to find us a mountain goat while ignoring a huge mountain right in front of us. We didn’t care about the goat but were very concerned about the mountain, obviously we survived so all’s well than ends well.
“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.” – Louis L’Amour
More to Follow
Tom and Holly