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Whale Watching in Juneau Alaska

Bubble Net Feeding in Humpback Whales

This absolutely tops my list of the most incredible things I have ever seen in my life.   I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Alaska this summer with my husband and 2 daughters.  It was the trip of a that we had saved and planned for for years.  Of all the amazing wonders of Alaska, perhaps the most amazing was our day of whale watching.

My expectations prior to the excursion were very basic.  I expected to see one or two whales at great distance.  Maybe I would see a few tails break the surface of the water, and if I was very lucky, perhaps I would see a breaching.  My actual experience was so much more.  My actual experience was one like you might see on a National Geographic video!!

Of course, I had a camera, but I was not prepared to take video of the whales.  I really didn't think we would get close enough to get a good video.  So when a pod of 16 HUMPBACK WHALES suddenly surfaced beside our boat, I was totally unprepared.  You are about to see several segments of video, all taken with my iPhone!  The commentary you will hear is from my family.  The references to "crying" are about me.  I became quite emotional watching the whales.  It was something I had only dreamed of, and I had no idea how awe-inspring this experience would be.

As you watch this first movie, make sure that you set your computer to full screen and that you have the volume turned up. Listen to the sound of the whales!  The sound of their breathing was incredible, and we were close enough that the spray from their blow holes hit us in the face.    Humpbacks have an enormous lung capacity.  This makes it possible for them to dive to depths of 500 feet and remain underwater up to 20 minutes.  And when they surface...WOW!!! ... the blow is loud and the water vapor shoots up into the sky.

Also, you will notice quite a few boats around the whales.  Do not be concerned about this!  I am the biggest "nature lover" on the planet, and I can promise you that the whales were unconcerned about the boats or the people talking.  The captain of our boat explained that they (boat captains) are not allowed to chase the whales.  Our captain took us to an area known to be frequented by whales.  One we arrived in the area, the captain was required to kill the engine and let the boat drift.  All of the boats that you will see were doing likewise.

Now comes the really, really amazing part.  We witnessed the bubble net feeding technique!  Apparently this method of feeding is not seen in all pods of whales.  It is unique to the humpbacks that migrate to the southeastern areas of Alaska, and it is a learned behavior.

This pod of humpbacks numbered 16.  In the above video, when you see their tail come out of the water, they are diving.  They dive to a depth of about 50 to 60 meters to find a school of fish.  The feeding technique involves an amazing division of labor.  Each whale has a job to do to ensure that the fish (herring in this case) are rounded up for maximum feeding.  One whale is the bubble blower.  This whale releases a stream of bubbles from the blowhole while underneath the school of fish.   As the bubbles rise to the surface, the herring are caught in this bubble net and carried along with the bubbles to the surface.  Other whales begin vocalizing to scare and confuse the fish into a tighter ball.  Other whales herd the fish together and force them upward.  From below this tightly gathered school of fish, the whales lunge to the surface with their mouths wide open, scooping in large numbers of fish.  Before the whales surfaced we could actually hear their vocalizations under the water.

Quick facts about humpback whales:
  • They grow up to 50 feet long and may weight 70,000 pounds.
  • They give birth to a single calf and their gestation period is 11.5 months.
  • They are baleen whales, and filter their food from the water.  Food may consist of tiny frill and small fish.  
For more information, you might want to check this site called the Juneau Humpback Whale Catalog.  It has great information and really great pictures!

If you want some lesson plans and activities to do with your students, check out this lesson on Humpback whales on the National Geographic Education web site.


  1. I have goosebumps!! That is definitely on my bucket list. see the bubblenet behavior!!!! What an incredible experience!!!! can you tell I'm a little excited for you?????

  2. Thanks so much Marci! You definitely have to do this some day. It was the most incredible thing I have ever seen. I wish my writing skills were better so that I could truly describe the experience!!

  3. Hello! I just came across your blog while doing research on whale watching. We will be on a cruise to Alaska next month and plan for going whale watching too. Thanks for sharing your pics and video, they are WOW...amazing! I hope you don't mind me asking which vendor did you use. We prefer to plan for a smaller boat setting that booking the excursion thru our cruise ship. Would you recommend your boat company? My email address is if you prefer to PM instead. Wendy