Shameless feeding

I’m beginning to think that predators have no shame.

Watching a large, powerful bear eat grass still strikes me as a little awkward. All those muscles, teeth and claws should be attacking something more worthy. It’s embarrassing really.

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Notice the open whale mouth on the left side. It’s called lunge feeding – the concept makes me hungry.

But I topped that on a recent trip to California. We were looking for whales and were rewarded with humpbacks putting on an amazing show. They were diving, then rushing up to the surface as a group to swallow large quantities of prey in a process called lunge feeding. I will not soon forget the thrill of watching those huge creatures break the ocean surface in unison, time and again. Wow!

But what was their prey? Small anchovies. First of all I had no idea what an anchovie was except that it was some kind of vegetable that got sprinkled on pizza. It turns out I was entirely mistaken. It’s a little fish. I never saw that coming. In my defence, I still think anchovie sounds like a vegetable!

You would think that a humpback whale that ranges in length from 12–16 metres (39–52 ft) and weighs approximately 36,000 kilograms (79,000 lb) would be embarrassed catching these little guys. But no. There they are shamelessly avoiding the big fish and going after large quantities of anchovies.

To make matters worse, if they accidentally swallow a larger lunch like a sea lion, they will spit it out. I’m sure that makes quite the story for the sea lion to tell his friends over coffee.

I could have been more ashamed for the humpback whales but I was too mesmerized by the show these sea creatures put on. Maybe that was their shameless strategy.

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This is rather close quarters for five whales to end up after lunge feeding but they all seemed to get along just fine.

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Latest Comments

  1. Tim Timmis says:

    Sweet shots Lyle, good work on all of them. Congrat’s on a very successful trip. I went whale watching from California a few years ago and loved it. Can’t wait to go back someday.

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  2. hannele says:

    Wow. What a spectacle to observe! I’ve always found it a bit funny that the largest animal on earth, the blue whale, eats krill. To be fair, they eat about 3,600 kilograms of that tiny food every day, but still.

    I saw whales in Iceland once, but didn’t really get any good photos. Just the experience was fantastic, though – to me it really points out the fact that our planet is mostly covered in water, which is inhabitable to us… And there’s a lot of life hiding there that we still know so little about. These whales just peek their heads (and butts) into our puny world, like we sometimes peek into theirs. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      You make a lot of excellent points. These particular whales were attracted to an underwater canyon that came close to shore which was handy. Given all that water, we were so fortunate to catch these sightings. In the grand scheme of things, we are not large.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Inger says:

    Your photos are awesome! I have always wanted to experience this feeding frenzy close up, hope I get the chance one day:)

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  4. MJF Images says:

    Cool shots! Were they bubble netting too? That’s when they corral the prey down deeper and drive them to the surface with a ring of bubbles. It’s very coordinated with each whale having a particular job. Don’t take this wrong, but you have to be from the prairies Lyle to think anchovies are a vegetable, ha!

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I’ve seen documentaries on the bubble netting and that is amazing. The tour guides told us this was lunge feeding. The anchovies were just thick, rippling the surface, and sure enough the whales would come along and swallow a bunch – very cool.

      I certainly don’t take it wrong. In fact, I still think it sounds like a vegetable. The prairies may have something to do with it.

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  5. caleephotography says:

    LOL!!! 😀 and great pictures, Lyle! What an amazing sight.

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  6. Lavinia Ross says:

    Those are some amazing whale photos, Lyle! Yes, I bet a sea lion would have a story or two to tell. Dear diary, dear diary what a day it’s been… 🙂

    You must be confusing anchovies with artichokes…. 🙂

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Now that I think of it I should have written this post as a dear diary entry from the sea lion. That might have been amusing. Maybe it was artichoke confusion but once again that sounds more like a fish to me than anchovie – not that anything makes sense. Glad you enjoyed this big creatures.

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  7. Alison says:

    Lucky you! After many whale watching trips, we finally saw some humpbacks bubble-net feeding like this in Glacier Bay, Alaska, over 15 years ago on our honeymoon. It was an incredible experience that I would love to witness again now that I have much better gear and so much more experience as a photographer. At the time, we were on a small whale watching boat with another family visiting the area on a cruise ship, and would you believe that we had to leave the whales to get them back to their ship?!?! It nearly killed us to leave such a magical moment! Great shots, Lyle!

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Thanks. I knew it was a fortunate sighting but I’m beginning to realize how special it was and that I had the capability to get some shots.

      I can’t believe you had to leave the whales in mid-feed. That would be awful. With all your travels I hope you get to see them again.

      Like

  8. Pam says:

    Fantastic pictures!

    Like

  9. Mandy says:

    Honestly Lyle, I’ve seen plenty of whale photos having grown up on part of the coast the whales pass on their migration, but I’ve never seen photos as good as these – especially with the lunge feeding, Really, really well done.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Thanks for that! I know I was most fortunate to get that opportunity on a random two-hour whale watching tour. I was sure hoping I got some good photos after that. I’m still smiling about the experience and the photos.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Jeff | Planet Bell says:

    DAAAANGGGGG! That is awesome to see so many whales lunge feeding like that. I think you were very lucky. Great photos. They eat like tourists at a buffet on a cruise ship, and are about the same size, it seems.

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  11. Mary says:

    Very cool shot Lyle, I haven’t seen whales working this hard for a school of anchovies before.

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  12. Steve Gingold says:

    As far as I am concerned, all the anchovies in the world can be set aside for whale feed. Once was all I needed to disenjoy them on a pizza to come to such a conclusion. Whales are also known to gorge themselves on large quantities of krill…shrimpy shrimps. Imagine the multitudinous screams as these hundreds or thousands of tiny beings are trapped behind the whale baleen.
    When I saw the title, I just figured you had dined at one of the coasts outstanding seafood inns.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Now that’s funny! I’ll mark you down as undecided on the anchovies:) Those screams would be quite something if not for water drowning them out. And we are quite happy to watch!
      As for dining – maybe that’s a post for another time. We certainly didn’t go hungry given all the Fisherman Wharves.

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  13. Scott Marshall says:

    Now come on Lyle even the token Scot knew what an Anchovy was popular here in olive oil. The breeching must have been a sight to behold how far from the boat were they I wonder

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Well if you add olive oil … it still sounds like a vegetable to me:) The best part of the feeding was that they kept coming to surface for most of an hour. I’d guess they might have been 200 metres from our boat.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Marie says:

    Incredible photos. What an amazing experience.

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  15. Susan says:

    Wow, what a sight to see and wonderfully captured! I’m very envious! 🙂

    Like

  16. Seenorway says:

    By sticking close together, they don’t miss out on much! Smart animals!

    Like

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