Bubble-net feeding refers to a behavior in which humpback whales blow bubbles while swimming around in a circular pattern in order to catch prey

By Maria Pasquini
October 14, 2019 05:08 PM
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It’s not everyday you get to see something like this!

Researchers from the University of Hawai‘i’ at Mānoa used cameras and sensors with suction-cup tags, as well as drones, to capture new footage of whale bubble-net feeding in southeast Alaska — from both a whale’s-eye and an aerial perspective.

During bubble-net feeding, humpback whales blow bubbles while swimming around in a circular pattern in order to catch prey.

“The footage is rather groundbreaking,” said Lars Bejder, director of the UH Mānoa Marine Mammal Research Program, in a news release about the video. “We’re observing how these animals are manipulating their prey and preparing the prey for capture. It is allowing us to gain new insights that we really haven’t been able to do before.”

Credit: NOAA Permit No. 19703

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.

“Basically 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,” added Bejder.

Credit: NOAA Permit No. 19703

Around 3,000 humpback whales travel to Alaska during the feeding period in the summer, Bejder noted. When it comes time to migrate for the winter, whales travel 3,000 miles to Hawaii and do not eat until they return back to Alaska.

“In Hawai‘i it’s a breeding and resting ground. When they get up to Alaska it’s a foraging ground, and we’re trying to understand what that whole migration costs these animals and also how much prey these animals have to consume to maintain this whole migration,” Bejder explained.

Researchers hope the video they have recorded will both increase their understanding of the behavior as well as provide insight on how a lack of prey or climate change could affect humpback whale numbers.