We have now had ample time to observe the Humpback whales and their many behaviors. Surprisingly, the whale’s behavior in Southeast Alaska has an entirely different purpose than when they sing in their mating grounds in Hawaii. This is due to their motives for remaining in Alaska and remaining in Hawaii for periods of time. A breach in Hawaii has a different purpose from a breach in Alaska. As the warm waters of Hawaii are used for mating, the cold productive waters of Alaska are used to forage.
The whales exhibit several different behaviors when they surface around the lighthouse. There are of course, whales breaching, during which they throw themselves into the air and splash into the water. This behavior is rumored to have several different functions ranging from intimidation to communication while the whales are in Alaska. In contrast, when the whales are in Hawaii breaching is used as a flashy behavior to attract mates.
The whales also perform peduncle throws: a whale at the surface throws its entire tail into the air and slams back into the water, and Pectoral slaps in which the whales swim on their sides on the surface and smack the water. Both of these behaviors are believed to be used in communication and feeding. The Peduncle throw sends such a forceful sound wave through the water and has the ability to scare nearby schooling fish. This works well in the Humpbacks favor as small schooling fish, such as Herring, form a more tightly knit group and become easier prey for the Humpbacks.
Bubble net feeding is also a common practice found in Alaskan waters. Bubble net feeding involves large groups of Humpbacks working together during a feeding frenzy. It begins when one whale gives a bubble net feeding call. It is an elongated note, as if the whale briefly sings and ushers the other whales into the area to begin feeding. One whale sinks deep into the water beneath the schooling fish and sends up bubbles that corrals the fish into ever-tighter circles. The other whales then simultaneously engulf the schooling fish in their mouths and beach the surface. From the surface, it has the appearance that the whales are bobbing on the surface in a giant circle of bubbling water.
This week also held our camping trip. We took a 45-minute boat ride to a nearby island and camped for a night. I was able to take a kayak out to a Sea Lion hollow and paddle to within about 20 feet of the Sea Lions. Sea Lion’s may appear to be sweet doglike mammals of the ocean, but in reality the Sea Lion’s are aggressive and have a bite stronger than a bears. When compared to each other, the skull of a Sea Lion and the skull of a bear are almost identical. The Sea Lions are also extremely inquisitive animals and have no problem swimming up to your kayak to check you out. An 1800-pound Sea Lion with the strength to crush your bones in a single bite can be somewhat daunting as you rock around in a small kayak.
In addition to paddling to the Sea Lion hollow, I also had the opportunity to hike through some of the Alaskan wilderness. The forest was unlike any I had ever seen. This Island, known as The Brothers, has no predators and is completely covered in moss. The moss floor proved to be quite comfortable as we set up camp. For the first night of the season we slept in darkness, as the trees sheltered us from the ever-persistent daylight.
RSMAS Undergraduate Student
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