Thursday, September 03, 2009
“Why are the blue whales here?” is a common question I get while working on the boat. The answer I most often reply with is “They’re here because they’re feeding on krill which is a small, shrimp-like animal.” Typically the krill they eat are pretty deep, around 500 feet or so, but I always mention how on rare occasions the krill are at the surface and the blue whales will lunge feed at the surface. I’ve never seen it done … until now!
On August 28, I saw blue whales lunge feeding for the first time in my life. I’ve seen pictures of it being done before. I’ve even seen video of it before. But until a few days ago, I had never seen it in person in the two years I’ve been out on the water. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible the sighting was!
The day started like any other whale watch day does. The safety talk, a quick stop at the harbor seals, and then out past the break wall in search of the big blue. We’d been on the water for barely any time at all when Capt. Phil starts yelling inside the wheelhouse, “BIG SPLASH, BIG SPLASH!!!” I was searching in the opposite direction of where he saw the whales, but as soon as I turned around, I knew what I was looking at! This huge head comes fully up and out of the water. The bottom of the whale’s mouth was facing us so I saw the whole throat region expanded and completely filled with water.
A lot of baleen whales, such as the blue whale, have ventral pleats on the bottom throat region. The ventral pleats are a lot like stretch marks. When the whales gulp up a lot of water, those pleats expand allowing for such vast amounts of water and krill to be taken in and filtered at one time. This is the reason blue whales can eat up to 8,000 lbs of krill a day.
After seeing the underside of the blue whales lunging straight up, they started lunging on their side. They were also rolling in circles, slapping their flukes, and spy hopping! Spy hopping is when the whale just sticks their head out of the water, takes a little look around, and then back down they go. Overall, it was quite an amazing day.
Now although I know this is a rare sighting, and of course can’t promise we’ll see it again, I can officially say it does happen right here off of Long Beach, CA! Since I’ve seen it happen for sure, there’s a good chance it will happen again. Hopefully we’ll be at the right place at the right time and will get to see this extraordinary behavior again! If you’d like to join us on this quest, click here!
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