Bubble Net Feeding Humpbacks

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Kenai Fjords, Photos, Travel 6 Comments

Humpback whales bubble net feeding, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.

Humpback whales bubble net feeding, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.

I’m back from my Kenai Fjords National Park photo tour.  The bad news, we had pretty bad weather – well, really bad – it rained the whole time and clouds and fog obstructed what is normally an amazing view.  Cold and wet seems to be the theme for this summer in Alaska.  I have dreaded a trip like this and knew along the coast it was just a matter of time.

But, fortunately we still had a great trip!  We saw numerous humpback whales including one that repeatedly breached.  The highlight was seeing this group of humpback whales bubble net feed, more on that later.  We also saw orcas, sea otters, sea lions, Dall’s porpoise swimming with the boat and great glacier activity.  We had some of the most cooperative puffin I have seen out there and were able to get close to them perching and flying.  And fortunately my group had a wonderful attitude about the weather which is really the key to a successful trip in Alaska.  The right attitude is the key to a lot of things I think.

So what is bubble net feeding?  It is an amazing behavior in which the whales dive deep under an area with small fish.  In a cooperative dance, the swim their way to the surface in a circle while blowing out a string of bubbles.  As these bubbles rise to the surface, it confuses the fish who swim to the center of the circle of bubbles.  At this point the whales rise up from the surface in the middle of the circle with mouths wide open filling them with fish!  In many of my photos you can see numerous fish jumping at of the whales gaping mouths as gulls dive in for a free meal.  In this photo you can’t see any fish – but it also didn’t have any bright, white distracting gulls so I thought I would share it first.

I have seen this behavior in Southeast Alaska.  It was believed this was the only place it took place, but in recent years this group has been seen feeding this way around here.  Last year I think they were only in the area for a couple of weeks.  This year they have been around off and on much longer.  Some people have speculated that these whales may be transplants from Southeast, I don’t know if anyone really knows.

Comments 6

  1. Ron,
    Nice picture. Too bad your tour had poor weather. Hope to go on this trip with you in a few years. I have not ever met a cooperative puffin in my experience. Maybe you could post some pictures in the future.

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    Thanks Andrew. It is a fun trip! You mean a bunch of puffin flying fast and long distance is away while you are in a boat isn’t cooperative? 🙂

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  4. Hey Ron,

    Sorry to hear you had bad weather this time.
    Guess we really did bring the CA weather with us last year!
    Hard to believe it’s been a year already since we were there.
    But we still get big smiles on our faces when reminisce about that incredible boat trip. 🙂
    We hope to do it again sometime so we can see the Orca’s and whales breaching and bubble feeding!

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    Hi Wayne,

    I know – I kept thinking back to the wonderful weather you guys brought with you last year! That was fun. I’m glad we did get to see some pretty amazing wildlife – the folks on this years trip earned it after putting up with such weather!

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