'Groundbreaking' New Footage Provides a Mesmerizing Look at Whale Bubble-Net Feeding

James Marshall
October 17, 2019

Since as far back as the 1930s, researchers have theorized that humpbacks deployed their fins to corral prey, but it was a difficult hypothesis to prove; from the wrong vantage point, it can be hard to tell what the whales are doing as they thrash about in the water.

That rising ring forms a column that traps fish, allowing other whales in the group to swim up from below, mouths agape, through the bubble cylinder to feast. The great mammal's movements just seemed chaotic-but when she was later able to study humpbacks from a bird's-eye view, with the help of a drone, Kosma realized that they were in fact deliberately using their fins during the hunt.

"It wasn't chaotic", she tells Ian Sample of the Guardian "I$3 t was actually graceful, intentional and calculated".

Pectoral herding: an innovative tactic for humpback whale foraging from Madison Kosma on Vimeo. Though slender, the flippers can reach to a third of their body length, making them up to 5 metres (16ft) long in adult whales. The fins are primarily used for manoeuvring and providing sudden bursts of acceleration. When a humpback lunges at a shoal of fish, the whale's baleen, a large comb-like filter in its mouth, sieves the food from the inrush of water.

"We have two angles and the drone's perspective is showing us these bubble nets if you will and how the bubbles are starting to come to the surface and how the animals come up through the bubble net as they surface, while the cameras on the whales are telling us from the animal's perspective, so overlaying these two data sets is quite exciting", Professor Bejder said. She later saved up to buy a drone and recorded from directly above the feeding whales.

In addition to providing viewers with stunning visuals, the two different types of shots give researchers a unique look at the feeding process - including how often whales must carry out the behavior before being ready to migrate for mating season.

An incredible video has revealed how humpback whales create spiral-shaped fishing "nets" made up of bubbles to entrap their prey.

And it is believed up to 10,000 whales migrate to Hawaii in the winters to breed.

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the researchers explain how the herding strategy may make feeding more efficient by squeezing more prey into the volume of water the whales take in.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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