Humpback Whales in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica

As we sailed north from Neko Harbor to the South Shetland Islands, we came upon a large assemblage of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding in the Gerlache Strait. They were on krill, as evidenced by the color of their waste, but the water was too rough to make out patches or balls of the invertebrate stuff. At one point Jim estimated we had seen over 45 humpbacks in the area about 2 miles long by half the width of the strait. One group of five whale provided some excellent examples of surface lunge feeding. While not the coordinated bubble-net feeding that is normally associated with Alaskan humpback whales, the behavior of these whales did include some bubble displays.

Humpback whale lunge feeding on Antarctic krill, with mouth open and baleen visible.  The humbpack's throat grooves are seen as its pleated throat becomes fully distended as the whale fills its mouth with krill and water.  The water will be pushed out, while the baleen strains and retains the small krill, Megaptera novaeangliae, Gerlache Strait

Humpback whale lunge feeding on Antarctic krill, with mouth open and baleen visible. The humbpack’s throat grooves are seen as its pleated throat becomes fully distended as the whale fills its mouth with krill and water. The water will be pushed out, while the baleen strains and retains the small krill.
Image ID: 25648
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Gerlache Strait, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Humpback whale lunge feeding on Antarctic krill, with mouth open and baleen visible.  The humbpack's pink throat grooves are seen as its pleated throat becomes fully distended as the whale fills its mouth with krill and water.  The water will be pushed out, while the baleen strains and retains the small krill, Megaptera novaeangliae, Gerlache Strait

Humpback whale lunge feeding on Antarctic krill, with mouth open and baleen visible. The humbpack’s pink throat grooves are seen as its pleated throat becomes fully distended as the whale fills its mouth with krill and water. The water will be pushed out, while the baleen strains and retains the small krill.
Image ID: 25649
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Gerlache Strait, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

In fact, it was easy to know when the group of five was about the surface since one of the five predictably produced a subsurface blast of air a few seconds before surfacing. With a little practice it was possible to put the camera near the spot at which the whales would surface and then it was a matter of luck, firing the frames as quickly as possible and hoping the whales would surface with open mouth and full, pleated throat in the frame. We watched the whales until at least 10:30pm, when I finally got a shot of them coming toward the boat. One shot in particular illustrates the baleen, tongue and fully-engorged throat of a krill-feeding humpback. It would have been inconceivable to get this image 10 years ago when I was shooting film, at such a late hour in dim, overcast light, but the modern cameras allow for this sort of photo with relative ease. ISO 1600, lens wide open at f/4, hand-holding a stabilized 500mm lens on a rocking boat at only 1/500, and yet three of the four frames of that sequence are sufficiently sharp for publication. Wonders never cease. About 11pm we finally leave the whales and continue north through the Gerlache Strait, leaving the Antarctic Peninsula in our wake about dawn. Alas, Antarctica is now just a memory.

Scenery in Gerlache Strai.  Clouds, mountains, snow, and ocean, at sunset in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica

Scenery in Gerlache Strai. Clouds, mountains, snow, and ocean, at sunset in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica.
Image ID: 25680
Location: Gerlache Strait, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

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