Humpback whales “surround and trap prey” in Antarctica

A rare instance of humpback whales engaging in a “coordinated hunting strategy” has been captured in Antarctica.

The amazing scene was captured on video by Piet van den Bemd, a 28-year-old photographer and drone pilot from the Netherlands who spends about four months a year in Antarctica and five months in the High Arctic region. The photographer shared the footage in a video posted on his Instagram account @pietvandenbemd.

“What you’re looking at is two humpback whales in synchronous bubble net feeding,” he said Newsweek“an impressive, concerted hunting strategy among humpback whales.”

The drone pilot said he witnesses it “from time to time” during his time in the polar regions but “still, it’s a rare occurrence.”

But, “this time the whales did very well. The Fibonacci [spiral] form executed perfectly makes it unique and a moment that will never be forgotten. In all the time I’ve spent here, I’ve never gotten this way,” he said.

Humpback whales feed on nets in Antarctica. Piet van den Bemd, who captured the footage, told Newsweek that this feeding behavior saw humpback whales working together to “encircle and trap prey” by releasing a ring or net of air bubbles that “confused and corralled” small fish.
Piet van den Bemd @pietvandenbemd on Instagram

What is Bubble Net Feeding?

Net feeding is a behavior in which humpback whales “corral and contain fish in a small area by trapping them in nets of air bubbles so that they can more efficiently capture them in their large mouths.” filter feeding,” explains the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The hunting strategy involves humpback whales working together to “surround and trap prey” by releasing a ring or net of air bubbles that “confuse and trap small fish or krill (small shellfish-like shrimp),” says van den Bemd.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation says: “This is a complex, highly synchronous set of behaviors involving communication and cooperation, showing signs of high social intelligence.

“One whale usually leads the effort followed by the rest of the group. The leader is usually responsible for blowing the bubbles and the other members circle the fish, which follow them to the surface by swimming in spiral patterns. so that the fish are trapped,” added the foundation.

Humpback whales are “gulpers”, which means they eat by opening their mouths and “swallowing everything in their path before closing their mouths.”

During bubble net feeding, the whales “swim through the center of the bubble net with their mouths open, taking in the concentrated prey,” van den Bemd said:

Krill form an important part of the Antarctic ecosystem as a main food source for various marine organisms, the photographer said.

He explained: “Many species, including whales, seals, penguins, and seabirds, rely on krill as a staple in their diets.

Trophic level is a term that refers to an organism’s position in the food chain.

“In addition, krill play an important role in carbon sequestration (the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere). As these small crustaceans feed on phytoplankton and then sink to deeper waters when they die, they bring they transport carbon from the surface to the deep ocean. This helps regulate carbon cycles and contributes to the overall health and stability of the Antarctic marine ecosystem,” added van dem Bemd.

The whale's tail looks out to sea.
A whale’s tail floating in the ocean. Photographer and drone pilot Piet van den Bemd recently witnessed bubble net feeding in Antarctica, which is “an impressive, coordinated hunting strategy for humpback whales,” he told Newsweek.
Piet van den Bemd @pietvandenbemd on Instagram

‘Spectacular’ and ‘Insane’

A caption shared on the Instagram post shared by van den Bemd said: “Witnessing the mesmerizing dance of two humpback whales synchronized with bubble net feeding.

Instagram users were amazed by the footage.

User kaitlinschaer wrote: “This is INCREDIBLE. Bubble feeding in the most perfect interlocking spiral.”

User r3d_feather said: “That’s amazing! It just inspires my next adventure!”

User darylswalker simply said: “Insane bro.”

User scottybauer_ wrote: “Awesome, reminds me of a sea shell.”

User mezzaluna2 said: “Amazing! We watched them feed the net in Alaska, but you can’t see it from the boat.”

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Photographer, drone pilot Piet van den Bemd,
Piet van den Bemd, a 28-year-old photographer and drone pilot from the Netherlands spends about four months a year in Antarctica and five months in the High Arctic region.
Piet van den Bemd @pietvandenbemd on Instagram

Update 12/20/23 1:27 pm ET: This article has been updated with a new image.