Humpback whale bubble net feeding near Chichagof Island, Alaska

In the summer months, humpback whales are a relatively common sight in Alaska’s Inside Passage.  Humpback whales start their annual migration from their breeding grounds near Hawaii and Baja California, Mexico to Alaska in the spring.  Alaska’s nutrient-rich waters provide ample food for humpbacks during the summer months.  During that time, they replenish fat stores in preparation for their migration south again.  Hawaii and Mexico can be thought of as the “bedroom” for humpbacks and Alaska, the “dining room”.

Humpback whale in Alaska’s Inside Passage.

A subset of Alaska’s humpbacks have figured out a unique feeding strategy called bubble net feeding.   This feeding technique usually involves a group of whales working together to trap large schools of herring.  One whale swims below the surface blowing a wall of bubbles until a circle is completed.  Then, the whales all lunge to the surface of the water, mouth wide open, to capture as many herring as they can in one gulp.

Bubble net just before humpback whale lunged to surface.

Herring don’t school throughout the entire summer, so your window of opportunity to see humpback whales bubble net feeding in Alaska doesn’t last much longer than a few weeks.  When we traveled to Alaska’s Inside Passage in early June, we were told we were too early in the season to see it.

Timing is everything when it comes to wildlife watching.

During a second trip to Alaska’s Inside Passage in late July, we were treated with views of a single humpback whale bubble net feeding along the shore of Chichagof Island.  In the 15-20 minutes we observed this whale, we say four rounds of bubble net feeding.  These sightings rank as one of the best wildlife experiences we’ve had to date.

Humpback whale lunging to surface during bubble net feeding.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5OQYecyA8Y]

To read about our other wildlife sightings that day, check out “Alaska’s Trifecta” blog (http://reefstorockies.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/alaskas-trifecta-mendenhall-glacier-brown-bears-and-humpback-whales/).

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