Monday, September 10, 2018

Humpback Whales - Bay of Fundy

We took the Quoddy Link Marine whale watching tour out of Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada into the Bay of Fundy and had great luck seeing humpback whales. We have seen humpback whales previously in Alaska, but just a few, and we generally were not able to get as close. 

We learned that each humpback whale has a unique tail fluke which allows individual whales to be identified. In fact, the College of the Atlantic out of Bar Harbor, Maine, maintains a photographic catalog of all known North Atlantic whale tail flukes. On our boat one of our guides on several occasions called out the name of a whale when they spotted the tail. I've sorted through my photos and can identify five different whales from my own pictures. The tails are each quite different and I was able to identify the same whale in different pictures from different sightings over the course of our excursion. 
This is a later photo of the tail of the first whale we saw. The blow-hole of another whale is nearby. 
This is the second whale. Note how much more extensive the white is on the tail. I like the bird flying in the foreground. 
This is the same whale I saw later in the day next to another whale. 
This is the third whale we saw (per tail identification). Another whale is right next to it. 
This is the third whale, again. I like the tail as it disappears into the water. 
This is the fourth whale tail. 
And last, the fifth whale tail. I like the birds in the photo that give perspective. 
Humpback whales have 14 to 35 throat grooves that run from the chin down to the navel. These grooves allow the whale's mouth to expand as it sucks up to 15,000 gallons of sea water full of krill and small fish. As the sea water is pushed back out of the whale through the baleen, the krill and small fish are filtered out and ingested by the whale. Humpback whales have learned a surface feeding technique called bubble net feeding. A whale, under water, will begin exhaling air out through the blowhole, beneath a school of fish or krill, causing lots of bubbles. Then more whales start to blow out bubbles as they circle the fish. A net of bubbles surrounds the fish and prevents them from escaping. Then one of the whales will sound a feeding call and all of the whales will simultaneously swim upwards with mouth open to feed on the fish. Humpback whales are able to use a similar technique when it is just one of them. The whale dives down below the school, starts circling and blowing bubbles, then lunges up with its mouth wide open. At the surface the whale expectorates the excess water, separating and swallowing the fish. This is called lunge feeding. 

Our guide pointed out this behavior to us and we saw lunge feeding on several occasions. First we would see bubbles coming up to the surface, then the water would start to swirl as the whale circled, then the whale would break the surface of the water and we would see the grooved surface of the underside and side of the whale as it squeezed the excess water out of its mouth through its baleen plates and swallowed the fish, giving us a view of its huge pectoral fin and a brief glimpse of its mouth. 
We first saw lunge feeding when a whale by a nearby boat did it several times. Here you see the whale's pectoral fun jutting out of the water and a circular area in the water with the boat close-by. 
Then we saw it quite close to our boat. Here are bubbles floating up to the surface in a roundish pattern. 
Then the whale would surface, on its side, throat grooves visible and a portion of the white pectoral fin. 
Closer view of throat grooves.
Closer view of pectoral fin.
Side and fin.
Side and fin and twirling water.
More distant view.
Then a portion of the whale's head surfaces...
...and it squeezes the sea water out through the baleen in its mouth. 
One of our first views of a whale was while it was quite foggy and one breached near our boat. I got just a portion of it and the pictures don't make sense to me because the tail is going in last (I think of breaching with the tail going in first and the head last). 
Here the tail is going down...
...then a huge splash.
Then again...
We got a lot of sightings of multiple whales together. That was really fun as we'd only seen single sightings in Alaska.
Two whales next to each other, one spouting.
Right after spouting, the blow hole is very evident.
Here a tail and a spout.
In the same sequence, the tail goes down and almost disappears while the blow hole of a third whale appears in the upper right of the photo. 
Here a whale swims in the foreground, just above it the tail of another starts to go down, to the right another tail all but disappears (the two tips of the tail are all that show) and just visible to the far right a portion of a fourth whale appears. 
This was a little more common, two side by side, just a long thin stretch of black on the water. 
A tail going down and another whale spouting. 
Two whales with a large bird flying between them, giving some perspective, and a third whale barely visible to the upper right. 
Finally, some other pictures I like giving some different perspectives. 
A whale near another, much smaller, boat.
A bird going the opposite direction of a whale, passing in the right lane.
One of my favorite photos, the points of a tail just about ready to submerge, while a large sea-bird flies toward it. 
Going through Letete Passage, from Passamaquoddy Bay toward the Bay of Fundy. A whale between us and a tree lined island. 
Whale between us and a lighthouse.
Whale fin going down, dripping water. 
Tail disappearing, looking like a wide-open lobster claw.
Close-up of a tail fin, showing barnacles attached. 


  1. AMAZING photos. How many do you think you took to get these gems? This was certainly my best whale-watching experience ever. I can understand why some scientists get obsessed with them.

  2. I had over 400 photos and lots and lots of them were horrible.