Humpback Whale – Bubble net feeding
Sep 30 2022
Well this was a day we didn’t expect – but that’s what can happen in the Hebrides, all of a sudden something unexpected and amazing turns up. Life on the edge of the Atlantic!
We were of course on the hunt for basking sharks, along with other wildlife, and came across multiple groups of common dolphins. It was a warm, sunny and flat calm day. Perfect conditions offshore, we seized the opportunity to head down toward the infamously rough waters of Skerryvore Lighthouse. After following numerous pods of dolphins we came across a large feeding frenzy where a number of minke whales were lunge feeding. An amazing spectacle in itself. The minkes thrust through the water engulfing large quantities of fish, an exciting sight for those on board. Skipper Shane had been scanning constantly from the cabin roof, and had seen something far off in the horizon. It looked like a fluke, the tail of a whale, however with the species of whales that dive and fluke up being rare in these parts, and the distance large then we kept watching what was in front of us whilst keeping an eye on the horizon.
However a few of our passengers had started seeing the same thing along with guide Rachel. We started heading in that direction and sure enough it was indeed what we thought it was all along – a Humpback whale! Cue spontaneous whooping and cheering onboard as we drew closer and saw that distinct white, barnacle encrusted tail rise up and glide underwater. As we waited in the mirror calm conditions, the next thing we saw was lots of bubbles appearing at the surface. From all our past tours to Norway, this could only mean one thing – bubble net feeding! All of a sudden the mouth broke the surface agape to envelop the fish – unbelievable! Shane sent up the drone and captured some stunning footage of various behaviours including a brilliant sequence of the bubble net feeding and the whale coming to say hi to the boat.
We spent the next few hours watching the spectacle, the whale took rests on the surface before carrying out multiple feeding dives. There was lots of minke whales, dolphins and even a basking shark in the background – but the humpback whale definitely stole the show! We headed back late afternoon after an amazing day at sea, however – the story doesn’t end there. We work with various researchers and organisations, knowing that humpbacks are quite rare in our waters Shane took some fluke and dorsal ID shots. We had a wonderful show with two humpback whales in 2020, one of whom had then appeared on the east coast and was nicknamed Barney from photographic ID work! See here for the blog on that here.
Sending the fluke shots to Lyndsay McNeill who runs the Scottish Humpback ID catalogue, it was obvious this whale has some pretty distinct dots on the fluke. Quick as a flash, she noted it wasn’t in the Scottish records and consulted the other catalogues. Running through the Irish records it was found to be whale HBIRL047 who was first recorded in 2015 and last seen 21st Oct 2021! It has been captured by photo ID 28 times since first recorded, but as it was the first official record for Scotland, it was noted as number 095. After consulting with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group it was double checked and confirmed. As a side note, it was interesting they had found the humpbacks normally seen around the Irish coast had seemed to relocate to NW Scotland this summer.
A great end to an amazing animal encounter in the Hebrides!