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    Oct '15
    Canada travel image of humpback Whale dorsal fin
    Humpback Whale in Douglas Channel © Kevin Clement
    Canada spirit bear tours image of Humpback feeding
    Humpbacks showed their flukes to the sky as they dove. © Kevin Clement
    Canada Great Bear Rainforest image of Humpbacks bubblenet feeding
    Humpbacks bubble-net feeding in Douglas Channel. © Kevin Clement
    Canada travel image of humpbacks bubble net feeding
    You can see its rostrum or upper jaw, with a row of light-colored baleen attached to it. © Kevin Clement
    Canada Kermode Bear tours image of Humpbacks bubblenet feeding
    Here you can see past the baleen into the whale's gaping mount—the last thing thousands of herring will ever see. © Kevin Clement
    Canada travel image of Humpback feeding in BC
    The lunging whale has now rolled almost over onto its back with its mouthful of seawater and tiny fish. © Kevin Clement
    Canada trvel BC Coastline spirit bear tours image of Humpback
    As it closes its mouth and sinks beneath the surface, it will begin to expel the water and sieve out its meal. © Kevin Clement

    Field Journal: Whale Watching in Canada

    Posted by

    in Americas and Expeditions

    The waterway we were cruising up among the jumble of islands north of Vancouver Island was marked on the chart as “Whale Channel”. I guess that should’ve been a clue for some excellent BC whale watching. All day from the deck of our chartered sailboat we had been seeing marine mammals, most of them humpback whales, cruising, feeding, and, in three cases, sleeping at the surface.

    Then, as our captain steered us out of Hartley Bay, he caught a flash of white, out on the other side of the channel, miles away. To be visible from that distance, it must’ve been a big flash of white. We watched for a while, but it wasn’t repeated. “Should we go investigate? It’ll mean we won’t be at the hot springs until after dark.” he asked me.

    “You bet,” I said. It could be nothing…but then, it could be something very interesting.

    As we reached the other side 15 minutes later, we saw a humpback spout, then another. Two whales swimming together. They blew four more times each; then, one after the other, showed their flukes to the sky as they dove. They didn’t seem to be traveling, and something about the way their movements were synchronized suggested that they might be cooperatively feeding.

    “We’ll wait to see them come up,” I said to the group. “Should be about five minutes.”

    Five minutes later, there was an explosion about 50 meters away. Everyone on board jumped. The two whales had burst simultaneously to the surface from deep below, as if trying to leave the sea forever. They rose with their huge mouths agape, both pleated throats distended with a swimming pool’s-worth of seawater teeming with tiny fish.

    Then they sank beneath the surface, expelling the water, trapping the fish, probably herring, behind the sieve of their baleen plates. In a few moments, they were back at the surface blowing. They took six breaths this time before flashing their flukes and diving.

    “Watch for the bubbles,” I told the group. Several of them looked at me quizzically. But then somebody saw them: a line of bubbles rising up from below, lengthening as we watched, forming an arc, like someone drawing a circle on the surface of the ocean. Even before it was complete, small fish were jumping frantically inside it, trapped. They knew what was coming…and so did I.

    Another fountain of white foam and gray whale hide surged upward within the circle. Cavernous mouths closed around water and fish and the animals sank back into the maelstrom they had created.

    You can watch whales for years and never see bubble-net feeding, where they blow a curtain of bubbles to confuse and concentrate their prey, then swim up through the corral to scoop up a whole school of fish at a gulp. Only humpbacks do it, and only in a few places. According to some ethologists, it is a behavior as complex and skillful as any practiced by primates, including the use of tools.

    We enjoyed the whale watching for another 40 minutes. Oh, and the hot springs were wonderful after dark.

    Learn more about this expedition on our Canada Spirit Bears Tour page.

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