Ninety percent of our exploration is on the water in the Zodiac. This brings us in viewing range of a lot of marine wildlife. When we do encounter wildlife, we cut the motor and patiently wait for them to go by undisturbed.
Whales like other mammals have lungs. They breath air through a single nostril or a pair of nostrils on the top of their head. They do not spout water when they exhale. The visible spout is simply water vapor in the lungs and a small amount of water present in the depression around the blowhole which is blown into the air when the whale exhales.
Southeast Alaska is the summer home for many types of whales. The type of whales we've seen the most are the Humpback whales.
Humpback whales have no teeth. Their teeth have been replaced by large fingernail like material known as baleen plates which hang down like vertical blinds from the upper jaws. The inside edge of these plates catches plankton on its bristly fibers straining food from the sea water.
When feeding, a humpback whales swims with its mouth open in order to engulf plankton and seawater by the ton. When shutting its cavernous mouth and pressing its tongue against the back of the baleen bristles, the whales forces the water out of its mouth trapping the plankton on a mat of overlapping baleen. Baleen whales tend to spend the summer in polar seas where plankton bloom provide abundant food. After months of heavy feeding, they migrate to temperate or tropical zones often fasting there over the winter.
One of the most incredible experiences we've been fortunate enough to have, is watching a pod of humpback whales bubble net feeding. Bubble net feeding is where a pod of whales form a circle at the bottom and exhale. The bubbles rise and they stun the fish up above. Then, the whales still in a circle, rise, compressing the fish together like a net. In the center, one or two whales open their mouths scooping up fish as they feed.
Bubble net feeding is an amazing example of natural teamwork.