Open Mouth, Insert Fish

By Michelle Theall


After more trips around Alaska than I can count, I had yet to see bubble-feeding whales until this summer. I filled in for a photo instructor aboard the National Geographic Quest on a Lindblad/NatGeo cruise of the InsidePassage, with my eye on this ultimate bucket-list reward.

Most humpback whales feed independently or with their calves, except when they do the coordinated dance of bubble-netting. As a group, multiple humpbacks descend below the surface of the water, sounding off and cueing one another, creating a circle of bubbles that “trap” herring inside the confusion. Then, all the whales rise at once, mouths gaping like the Hungry Hippo game our son once played, their hair-like baleen straining out water to keep nutrient-rich fish.

Staring into the mouth of a whale topped my adventures at sea this July and made the 16-hour days pass like the gulp of a giant humpback