Humpback Whales Bubble Feeding 100 by Jon Cornforth Via Flickr: USA, Alaska, Chatham Strait, Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) bubble-net feeding near Angoon
I always say that if I could photograph only one thing, that it would be whales. Unfortunately, they are the most difficult and expensive subject that I photograph. I have swam next to these gentle giants and watched them repeatedly breach into the air, but the most amazing behavior I have documented is humpback whales bubble-net feeding in Alaska. This phenomenon involves a group of whales diving beneath a school of fish and blowing a ring of bubbles underwater to effectively form a net as it rises to the surface. The ring can be up to 100′ in diameter. The fish get scared by the bubbles and become concentrated in the center. At the last second the whales swim up from beneath the school of fish with their months open swallowing everything they can in one enormous gulp. Research has shown that the individual whales repeatedly take up the same positions as they come out of the water during each attack. The best photographs include the most dominant whales in the center positions as they burst above the surface and slam their mouths closed. An incredible amount of patience and luck is involved in anticipating where the whales are going to form a bubble-net. If I am close enough and can see the bubbles rising at the last second, I have to react fast enough to capture the moment as they lunge out of the water. Magnificent!
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Free-diving with Whales, Dolphins, and Australian photographer @mishkusk
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“We could all look at the endless ocean every single day,” says Michaela Skovranova (@mishkusk), describing her reaction when her family moved from landlocked Slovakia to the coast of Australia. “One early morning during a swim I could hear soft clicks of a dolphin and suddenly she appeared right beneath me. She looked at me with the most curious eye—and just as quickly she was gone. I was left breathless and from then on I wanted to feel that every single day – and perhaps let other people feel that too through my work.”
Now 27 years old, and working as a freelance photographer and filmmaker, Michaela describes her continuing relationship with the water:
“My preparation for the ocean consists of swimming practice and free diving training, without breathing equipment. Underwater photography is still relatively new to me, and my experience photographing the humpback whales last year was a major catalyst for my love affair with the ocean. Achieving these images lies in the preparation of camera equipment prior to jumping into the ocean, and also the physical ability to free dive. In particular, within some places like the Polynesian islands of Tonga, it’s not legal to use scuba equipment when you swim with the humpback whales, so if you have the ability to hold your breath and free dive, you have a greater opportunity to interact with them. The adult whales weigh 40 tons, and only take a breath every 30 minutes, so when they do come up, which can be at high speed, it can be a heart-stopping moment — one that’s worth the wait. The baby whales breathe every few minutes and they can be wonderfully playful too, which makes them a little easier to photograph!
In terms of technical preparation, I use a very simple setup to allow me to move as fast as possible, once I am in the ocean. I use a fixed focal length lens, I may even preset the exposure, pre-focus once I jump in, and then let the ocean influence the images too.
Every day can be different. In the ocean I find you have less control of your body and the variables, so not having to worry about the equipment leaves my subconscious open to play. Seeing all the wonderful things that the ocean creates, all I need to do is respond to it, and sometimes hold my breath for a little while — and if I am really lucky, a dolphin may come and say hi.”
Humpback whales have arrived in Monterey Bay–and we have the best seats in the house. These graceful giants have been breaching, spouting and feeding just off our decks!
These massive mammals use air bubbles to herd and corral schools of fish and krill, swimming through with their mouths open–a single whale can consume up to 3,000 pounds per day! They often feed in the same spot for several days, making these whales easy to find.
Humpback whales are some of nature’s finest crooners. The males are the only humpbacks to sing, likely wooing females with droning tunes that change year after year, like our own love songs. These mating songs have even been shown to be passed from whale pod to whale pod as a form of culture! (although “culture” should be used with quotes, so if you tell this story to a friend make sure to make the little hand signs):
Recently, scientists looked more in depth (pun intended) at the function of those songs in choosing mates. They found that young sexually immature humpback hunks were joining the older males in a copycat chorus. These whippersnappers were clearly too young to mate, so this appears to be another example of older whales passing information to the next generation (there’s that “culture” thing again).
That’s a clear benefit for the younger whales, but what’s the advantage to the older ones? The researchers think that the combined chorus, from whales young and old, serves as a more attractive call to the females. By teaching the young whales, they enhance their chances of doing a little “night diving”, if you know what I mean … AKA “making the beast with two humpbacks” AKA “the marine mammal mambo” … just for the krill of it, y'all.