Victoria Whale Watching Report: Lunge Feeding Humpback Whales
July 25, 2019
With calm seas and sunny skies, our vessels headed out into Juan de Fuca Strait. With calm seas and sunny skies, we were excited about the prospects of finding whales. It would prove to be an incredible day on the water.
Aboard the Orca Spirit II, we arrived on scene southeast of Race Rocks to find a group of three humpback whales travelling and foraging together in tight formation. Excellent views of Mount Baker and the Olympic mountain range provided a scenic backdrop.
Nearby, we saw the blows of several more humpback whales so we went over to investigate. In the group of whales, we spotted the distinctive dorsal fin of a staff favourite, Splitfin! Splitfin (BCZ0298) is a 2006 calf of Big Mama (BCY0324) is one of the most easily recognized whales in our area. For the last several weeks he was seen near the Campbell River area. It is great to see him back!
Other humpback whales spotted this morning included Sol and Nike. Some lunge-feeding behaviour capped an incredible morning in the company of whales!
We began our journey south across the Juan de Fuca straight in search of wildlife.
Once we reached roughly 6 miles offshore of Port Angeles we started to spot a few blows. While slowly approaching we had reached 3 humpback feeding together. With using our guidebooks these humpbacks were identified as Split Fin, Sol and an unidentified humpback of the Salish Sea.
This is exciting since we get to send in our photographs to Happy Whale to find out where this animal is from! After watching this group for a while, we made our way west to see what else we could find.
Just as we made our way we were surprised by 3 more humpbacks!
These three humpbacks were identified as Victory (BCX0345), Titan (MMY0048), and Raptor (BCY0458). This group surprised us with continuous lunge feeding! It was the longest viewing of lunge feeding that both Naturalists and Captain had ever seen. Whenever we were preparing to leave, they started to lunge feed again.
We were able to get great views of the baleen and ventral pleats along the throat that is used to expand to filter large amounts of food at one time. These animals have baleen instead of teeth. The baleen is made of the keratin, the same substance that our hair and fingernails are made of. When the mouths of the humpback opened wide we were able to view the inside of the mouth and this hair-like substance.
Before heading home, we made our way through Race Rocks to view the seals and sea lions basking in the warm sun.
What a gorgeous night to be on the water! Both the Catalina Adventure and the Pacific Explorer made their way into the Juan De Fuca Strait this evening after picking up guests from the Celebrity Solstice cruise ship.
The Juan De Fuca Strait is shared with Vancouver Island and Washington State. This body of water is what we as whale watchers consider a “whale highway” as it is common to see many types of whales, not just Killer Whales. On this particular trip, our captains had gotten a report of Humpback Whales near Port Angeles, so away we went!
This trip we had four Humpback Whales all around the boat, lunge feeding and tail slapping. These four whales are known as Stitch, Vivaldi, Split Fin and BCZ0075. They all have very different flukes, which was exciting when trying to figure out who is who! Humpback Whales are catalogued and identified as individuals by the backside of their tails, so having 4 very different tails made ID’ing these whales particularly easy.
Humpback Whales in our area are known to feed in a few different ways, but because they are so large, and their food source tends to stay at the surface of the water, lunge feeding is by far the most common! This is when the whale looks for a large, tight grouping of Krill or other small schooling fish, opens their mouth big and wide, and lunges through the food source. When done, the whale ends up with about an Olympic size swimming pool of water and food in their mouth. They then push their tongue up against their baleen which pushes the water out of their mouth and they keep the nutrients in. A humpback whales throat is about the size of an adult humans forearm, so the combination of no teeth and the small throat is why these whales eat tiny little critters.
Just before we turned around to head back to the Cruise Ship, BCZ0075 and Split Fin put on quite a show! They were tail slapping simultaneously, over and over again. Tail slapping is typically a social behaviour that is seen lots in the mating grounds, but because there were four whales all hanging out together this day, it could have been a social behaviour here as well.
The sunset in a beautiful way while we journeyed back to the Cruise Ship.