Tag Archives: humpback whale

Swallowed whole: lobster diver swallowed and spat out by humpback whale

Humpback whales are gentle giants who don’t enjoy interacting with humans — but it’s still advisable to keep a distance from them. Image credits: Flicker Photos.

Michael Packard has been a lobster diver out of Provincetown for 40 years, but he wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.

“All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” Packard recalled Friday afternoon following his release from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis. “I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth.”

Packard’s vessel, the “Ja’n J,” was surrounded by a fleet of boats catching striped bass. He went diving when, without warning, he felt scooped up. Although he didn’t feel any injuries or teeth, he realized he had been swallowed and things were pretty bad.

“Then I felt around, and I realized there was no teeth and I had felt, really, no great pain,” he said. “And then I realized, ‘Oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth. I’m in a whale’s mouth, and he’s trying to swallow me.’ “

“I was completely inside; it was completely black,” Packard said. “I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m getting out of here. I’m done, I’m dead.’ All I could think of was my boys — they’re 12 and 15 years old.”

Still in his scuba gear, Packard started moving and struggling, until the whale began shaking its head. Packard felt the whale didn’t like, and after 30 seconds that seemed like an eternity, the whale finally surfaced and spat him out.

“I saw Mike come flying out of the water, feet first with his flippers on, and land back in the water,” Joe Francis, a charter boat captain who happened to be nearby, told WBZ-TV. “I jumped aboard the boat. We got him up, got his tank off. Got him on the deck and calmed him down and he goes, ‘Joe, I was in the mouth of a whale.’ “

“Then all of a sudden he went up to the surface and just erupted and started shaking his head. I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water,” Packard recalled. “I was free and I just floated there. I couldn’t believe. . . I’m here to tell it.”

Packard’s story was corroborated by his own crew, as well as Francis, and experts say that while extremely rare, this type of accident can happen. The whale doesn’t want to swallow people, but it can do so out of carelessness — much like a cyclist swallowing a fly. When a humpback whale opens its mouth to feed, it billows out and blocks its forward vision. This helps the whale scoop up more prey, but also makes it unable to distinguish what it’s scooping up.

Unlike toothed whales such as orcas, baleen whales such as the humpbacks cannot injure humans with their teeth; their esophagus is also too small to actually swallow a human. But whales can still cause a lot of damage to the unfortunate creatures they swallow. “He’s damn lucky to be alive,” Captain Joe Francis added.

Even so, what Packard went through is extremely rare. Whales don’t generally want to interact with humans, and it’s not uncommon for divers in the tropics to swim alongside them, enjoying a lovely experience. Experts generally advise keeping a distance of around 100 meters to avoid any potential accident.

Packard was released from Cape Cod Hospital Friday afternoon. He described his injuries as “a lot of soft tissue damage” but no broken bones. He said he’d return to diving as soon as he was healed.

Researchres found a chain of underwater volcanoes 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Tasmania. Credit: CSIRO.

Underwater volcano found off Australian coast may act as superhighway for whales

Researchres found a chain of underwater volcanoes 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Tasmania. Credit: CSIRO.

Researchers found a chain of underwater volcanoes 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Tasmania. Credit: CSIRO.

Completely by chance, researchers have come across a striking underwater chain of volcanoes rising amid the deep ocean. The ancient, extinct volcanoes tower 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) above the ocean floor, but, despite their massive size, they’ve stayed concealed from our prying eyes due to a 2 km-thick (1.2-mile) layer of water.

Researchers think that this diverse landscape is a perfect breeding ground for all sorts of lifeforms, likely hosting an array of yet-undescribed new species. The seamounts may also act as ‘signposts’ on the migratory highway for humpback whales that move from their winter breeding to summer feeding grounds.

These seamounts are likely the geological remnants of the ancient split off between Australia, Australia, and Tasmania, which took place about 30 million years ago.

Australian researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian National University were responsible for the discovery. The team’s research vessel Investigator was busy monitoring nutrient and phytoplankton levels in the East Australian Current when the ship’s sonar detected unusual contours beneath the ocean, 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of Tasmania.

It didn’t take long for the researchers to realize that the submerged mountains were brimming with life. Right as the ship was sailing above the uncharted terrain, the researchers detected a huge spike in phytoplankton activity — the bottom of the food chain that ensures the livelihoods of

“While we were over the chain of seamounts, the ship was visited by large numbers of humpback and long-finned pilot whales,” said Dr. Eric Woehler from BirdLife Tasmania, who was on the Investigator with a team surveying seabirds and marine mammals.

“We estimated that at least 28 individual humpback whales visited us on one day, followed by a pod of 60-80 long-finned pilot whales the next.

“We also saw large numbers of seabirds in the area including four species of albatross and four species of petrel.”

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Investigator will return to the region for two more research voyages in November and December. During these times, they will use deep water cameras to film marine life living on the seamounts. They will also collect rock samples in order to gain a better understanding of the region’s geological origin and evolution.

“We expect that these seamounts will be a biological hotspot year round, and the summer visit will give us another opportunity to uncover the mysteries of the marine life they support,” said Dr. Woehler.

Seal hitches a ride on the back of a whale

Australian photographer Robyn Malcolm has captured a mind blowing picture: a seal hitching a ride on the back of a humpback whale off the coast of New South Wales, Australia.

“I was surprised to find photos of the cheeky seal in amongst the other shots as I didn’t notice him at the time,” Malcolm told Lucy Cormack over at The Sydney Morning Herald. “I don’t think he stayed there for long.”

Humpbacks are baleen whales, they have no teeth, and use their baleen filter system to sift small fish and plankton and krill from the water. They can consume enormous quantities of food, up to 1,400 kg every day, which is likely why the seal was around.

Whale expert Geoff Ross from New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service said:

“Humpbacks force fish into very tight bait balls, that means everyone can dart through the inside or the middle – anything that makes it easier to catch fish, seals will be involved.”

To my honest surprise, he explained that this behavior is not unheard of.

“The only other time was a seal trying to get away from a killer whale,” said Ross. “The seal hopped on the back of the pectoral fins of a humpback whale.”

Right now, humpback whales are making their way down the Australian coast en masse as they head to Antarctica for the summer, resting and feeding as they go.

Photo: Artie Raslich/Gotham Whale

Whales and sharks sightings increase around NY waters, in response to cleaner waters

Photo: Artie Raslich/Gotham Whale

Photo: Artie Raslich/Gotham Whale

After cleaning the Hudson River, which spills into New York harbor, marine biologists report increased sightings of whales and sharks around the Big Apple’s waters. The cleaner waters now harbor more fish and nutrients, which in turn has led to a surge in numbers. Dolphins and seals are also on the rise.

The Hudson River used to be filled with pollution and garbage, but in the past five years the city’s public administration took dramatic action to curb water contamination. As a result, whales and sharks in the area have steadily risen in numbers, attracted by prosperous waters.  Gotham Whale, a wildlife tracking group, counted 29 whales, all humpbacks, in New York waters from the start of the feeding season in the spring to the end of July 2014, compared with 43 for the whole 2013 season, 25 in 2012 and five in 2011.

Photo: Artie Raslich/Gotham Whale

Photo: Artie Raslich/Gotham Whale

So, this year sailors and tourists had the chance to marvel at the breathtaking humpbacks’ “lunge feeding” on numerous occasions. In this spectacle, the humpback make a dashing rise above the water, engulfing thousands of pounds of fish in one gulp, while seawater is filtered through their baleen grills.

whale_nyc

Photo: Artie Raslich/Gotham Whale.

It’s not all good news, though. Rising numbers of whales meant that there were more reported accidents around New York and New Jersey harbors. As one of the busiest marine destinations in the world, increased vigilance is required on behalf of local authorities. Concerning sharks, from New Jersey to Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, fishermen have reported increased instances of seeing and reeling in great whites and other sharks. Apparently because of the better food, many sharks looking to migrate North for the summer feeding season decided to linger around New York. We’ve yet to find some actual numbers, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue a report soon enough. What’s perhaps most interesting though is a similar report of shark population surge, this time on the other end of the continent. The same NOAA reports great white numbers rising an estimated tenfold in Californian waters, after decades of decline.

New York beach enthusiasts and swimmers should not panic though. White sharks do not venture closer than one mile to shores.

“Shark attacks are so rare even in waters where humans and sharks are known to coincide,” said Paul Sieswerda, head of the Gotham Whale . “I know it’s the start of [Discovery’s] Shark Week, but that doesn’t concern me.”

via The Gurdian

Humpback Whale

Humpack whales flawless natural navigation studied

Humpback Whale

A recently published study 8 years in the making reveals the uncanny ability humpback whales have of following seemingly perfect straight paths for weeks at a time. The navigational precision of humpback whales cannot be explained by known theories.

Humpback whales feed during the summer near polar oceans and migrate to warm tropical oceans for the winter, where they mate and calves are born. This means that during a year a single humpback whale can easily amass 10,000 miles worth of return journeys, making them one of the most farthest migrating animals on Earth. Their migrating paths are perfectly straight, sometimes deviated only by a few degrees, fact that poised researchers to study them and see exactly what mechanism compels the huge watery mammals to become such precise navigators.

Researchers from the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, tracked 16 radio-tagged whales as they migrated thousands of miles north from the South Atlantic and South Pacific with unswerving accuracy, often covering more than 600 miles but deviating off course by less than one degree.

“Such remarkable directional precision is difficult to explain by established models of directional orientation,” the researchers, led by Travis Horton from the University of Canterbury, wrote in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Each animal was tagged with a special positioning device which attached to the whale from four weeks to seven months before falling out, transmitting precise position data and provided one of the most detailed sets of long-term migratory data for humpbacks ever collected.

Most long-distance traveling animals are believed to navigate using an internal compass that relies either on the earth’s magnetic field or the position of the sun. However, the scientists wrote, “it seems unlikely that individual magnetic and solar orientation cues can, in isolation, explain the extreme navigational precision achieved by humpback whales.”

They instead added, “The relatively slow movements of humpback whales, combined with their clear ability to navigate with extreme precision over long distances, present outstanding opportunities to explore alternative mechanisms of migratory orientation.”

Earth’s magnetism varies too much to explain the whales’ arrow-straight patterns, and you can’t really rely on solar navigation when navigating through water.

“Humpback whales are going across some of most turbulent waters in the world, yet they keep going straight,” said environmental scientist Travis Horton of the University of Canterbury, whose team will publish their findings April 20 in Biology Letters. “They’re orienting with something outside of themselves, not something internal.”

Horton suspects humpbacks rely on both mechanisms, and perhaps the position of the moon or stars. John Calambokidis of the Cascadia Research Collective, suggested a fourth mechanism for steering: long-distance songs that can carry for hundreds or thousands of miles underwater, and may provide navigational cues or help migrating whales coordinate their movements.

“These whales are clearly using something more sophisticated to migrate than anything we’ve surmised,” said Calambokidis. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what this team does next.”

Prepared to see, correction, hear something really amazing? Check out the video below.

UPDATE: a recent study has finally proven that sockeye salmon indeed rely on magnetic field to guide itself back to the freshwater stream of their birth – a trait that’s believed to be also used by the humpbacked whale.