For the first time ever, a group of humpback whales was spotted practising bubble-net feeding off the New South Wales coast. The incident, which took place in 2020, was captured in incredible footage shot via drone. It was later shared by the journal Aquatic Conservation. The superpod comprised of about 33 whales displayed unique feeding behaviour.
Bubble-net feeding is a technique that a school of whales uses to hunt for prey cooperatively. The whales work together in a group and strategically blow bubbles and manipulate the prey to make feeding easy. As per the study, this unique behaviour has only been seen among humpback and Bryde’s whales so far.
Prior to this sighting on the Australian coast, the humpbacks had previously only been documented in the southern hemisphere of South Africa. As these marine mammals usually feed on the coast of Antarctica during the summer months and migrate to North Australia to breed in the winter, the cluster captured off the Sapphire Coast in southern New South Wales was an ‘unbelievable’ occurrence.
Due to the overfishing of humpback whales when whaling was in its prime, their population declined in past years pushing them to near extinction. But due to changes in laws and new policies concerning their conservation, fortunately, their numbers are increasing. The video of whales displaying the supergroup feedings is of great interest to scientists and conservationists as it highlights the changes in the marine environment, which might otherwise go unnoticed.
Dr Vanessa Pirotta, from Macquarie University’s marine predator research group and the lead author on the study, said, “It would have looked like a sea of whales. For us to see [the super-groups] in Australian waters is pretty exciting.” She added that whales are vital for the marine ecosystem to thrive. As the marine mammals feed in one area and poo in another, they help move the nutrients in the oceans and help the food web underwater bodies to function properly.