Fall humpback-tivity

We woke up this morning to an incredible fall day… flat-calm waters and sunshine.  The weather at this time of year can be rather unpredictable so it made for an excellent opportunity to get on the water for the first time in awhile to gather identification and behaviour data from the whales that are still in the area.

Weynton Pass was, as usual, full of activity.  We encountered “Moonstar”, a 5-year-old humpback whale, doing the novel feeding behaviour that we call “trap-feeding”.  This behaviour, in contrast to the high-energy lunges that we most often see in this area, involves a whale staying almost motionless at the surface with its mouth wide open. Occasionally spinning in one direction or the other, we believe that the trap-feeding whale is waiting for herring to enter its mouth, as the fish seek shelter from the gulls and diving birds that perpetually pursue them.  Catching fish in this way appears to be similar to the strategy that the Venus flytrap uses to catch flies: the whale sits with its mouth wide open until fish swim in, and then snaps its mouth shut like a trap.

"Moonstar" trap-feeding. Note the small herring stuck in her baleen (photo by Jared Towers, MERS)

“Moonstar” trap-feeding. Note the small herring stuck in her baleen and beside her on the water
(photo by Jared Towers, MERS)

Just after Moonstar finished trap-feeding, we identified three humpbacks that MERS has known for many years (Twister, Stripe, and Inukshuk), being pursued by a group of Pacific white-sided dolphins.  The whales were trumpeting, slapping their tails on the surface, and changing direction rapidly, but the dolphins continued to chase them, right into a kelp bed.

Humpback whale "Twister" being pursued by Pacific white-sided dolphins (photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Humpback whale “Twister” being pursued by Pacific white-sided dolphins
(photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Blackfish Sound was also alive with humpbacks, herring, sea lions, and birds.  After documenting “Conger” lunge-feeding on several schools of herring, we observed Slash’s calf, “Stitch” playing with sea lions.  Stitch was rolling around at the surface, while sea lions leapt around her.

"Stitch" the humpback whale calf, playing with sea lions  (photo by Jared Towers, MERS)

“Stitch” the humpback whale calf, playing with sea lions
(photo by Jared Towers, MERS)

The behaviours and the diversity of marine life that we witnessed today are reminders of how unique the northern Vancouver Island ecosystem is.  Over the past nine years, MERS has not only documented the return of humpback whales to this area, but also the introduction of feeding behaviours that are not known from anywhere else on the coast.

We hope that the ideal weather and abundant wildlife continue for our whale watching fundraiser provided by Orcella Expeditions this weekend.

~ Christie and Jared

 

 

About MERS

We are a non-profit organization dedication to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research and environmental education.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s