While not the largest animal on earth (that distinction goes to the blue whale), humpbacks are no petite creatures; they’re 50-60 feet in length, which is longer than your average school bus. So when these tractor-trailer-sized mammals stick their enormous heads out of the water, they’re pretty easy to spot. These pictures were taken a few days ago, when we watched two whales (or maybe more; it’s hard to tell) feeding in Resurrection Bay.
Humpbacks are a species of baleen whale, a group of cetaceans that have no teeth. They feed by filtering water through their baleen plates, long protein structures that are similar to a comb.
Baleens, which include blue, gray, and right whales in addition to humpbacks, are the largest animals in the world, and yet they feed on some of the smallest, including krill, zooplankton, anchovies, sardines, and other fish that swim in schools. They run enormous amounts of water between the baleen plates to trap their food. Look at the water streaming out of the mouths of these whales as they feed:
The whales were difficult to photograph because they surfaced without warning and quickly went under again, but their emergence was dramatic. Here are a few video snippets that captured them feeding:
Humpbacks are found throughout the world’s oceans. They breed and winter in tropical waters and then cover thousands of miles to reach their summer feeding grounds in the north. Humpbacks were extensively hunted in the 19th and 20th centuries for their baleen, which was used to make corsets, buggy whips, and the ribs of umbrellas. This mass hunting severely depleted their stock, and they’re still considered endangered.
What a treat it was to watch these big guys feed. The chance to see whales up close was one of the big reasons we moved to Alaska. They’ll be around all summer and are among the most active of whales, so I’m sure we’ll have more pictures to share over the coming months.
A curious otter
On a side note, while we watched the feeding spectacle with numerous others, a sea otter watched us, obviously wondering why we humans were focused on some goofy whales instead of him.
We watched the whales from Lowell Point Road, a gravel road that turns into a tourist attraction during the summer. It runs adjacent to Resurrection Bay and offers spectacular views of the mountains, water, and wildlife. Although there are no guarantees, whales can frequently be viewed from here in the summer (we also saw one in February), so if you’re in Seward, and you want to see whales, start with a drive along the waterfront and Lowell Point Road. Do it several times a day if possible to increase your odds, but be sure to pull over and out of the way of locals if you spot one. Dozens of people live at Lowell Point and get frustrated when cars block the road!