The humpbacks are leaving

By Emy Montgomery

There are whales in the channel. Humpback whales. And whenever I see them, it is like the scene in Disney’s Fantasia 2000, complete with Respighi’s ‘Pines of Rome’ filling my ears

The fall and spring are the best times of year to visit the west coast of British Columbia if you are a whale fanatic. Thousands of humpbacks pass biannually through our waters on their way from Alaska to Hawaii and back again. Summers are spent in Alaska feeding on krill and herring to build up fat reserves. Winters are spent courting and breeding in the warm waters off Baja and Hawaii.

Humpback North Pacific migration routes Credit: http://media.web.britannica.com/eb-media/73/64873-004-4E58F04F.gif

Humpbacks have such a short window of time to feed during their Alaskan summers so they have developed a diverse range of feeding techniques. The most extraordinary, in my opinion, is group bubble net fishing. Humpbacks swim together in a circle of decreasing diameter while blowing bubbles. The vortex of bubbles works to pen in prey and forces it up to the surface. With broadly gapping mouths, the humpbacks swim from below to “scoop” up the trapped tasty treats!

It has been a fantastic year for sightings at BMSC. You can feel the excitement on station like static electricity on your skin whenever anyone mentions the whales. But they are almost all gone for now. My last view was a few days ago on the deck of the Main Building. I waved and wished them good luck on their long journey as the last sweet strains of ‘Pines of Rome’ faded away for another 6 months.

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