Be­hind the im­age

When her­ring go on the move, so do hun­gry hump­backs, cash­ing in on the sea­sonal fjord­land feast.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - CONTENTS - by ESPEN BERGENSEN

Hump­back whale in Nor­way

Win­ter had fallen over Kald­fjord, Kvaløya Is­land, near the town of Tromsø in north­ern Nor­way. Espen was driv­ing along the coastal road search­ing for whales, drone cam­era at the ready, when he caught sight of a hump­back mak­ing a bee­line for an enor­mous her­ring net. “It was in­ter­est­ing watch­ing the whale in­ves­ti­gat­ing the catch,” he re­calls. “I won­dered if it might be able to make a grab for any es­capees, or whether it was just look­ing on in frus­tra­tion at the good­ies in­side.”

Hump­backs are rel­a­tive new­com­ers to th­ese wa­ters, usu­ally seen feed­ing fur­ther out to sea be­fore re­turn­ing to the Car­ib­bean and Cape Verde Is­lands for the sum­mer breed­ing sea­son. Dur­ing the past decade, the cetaceans have been at­tracted closer to shore by north­wards-mov­ing shoals of her­ring, shar­ing the feast with res­i­dent or­cas. “It’s a feed­ing frenzy out of this world,” says Espen. “We are talk­ing many hun­dreds of or­cas and hump­backs gath­er­ing in a rel­a­tively small area, along with count­less gulls swoop­ing over­head [seen here as streaks across the im­age]. Noth­ing like it has been doc­u­mented in Nor­way be­fore.”

Her­ring hand­outs

This may look like an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen, but en­tan­gle­ment in her­ring nets is rare (un­like cod nets, which can claim sev­eral vic­tims ev­ery year). In fact, the whales recog­nise the sound of a boat cast­ing out its gear, and seek out the ves­sel for an easy meal.

Hump­backs fa­mously feed us­ing the bub­ble-net­ting tech­nique, but Espen has only wit­nessed this be­hav­iour once. In­stead, the whales cash in on the her­ring bait balls whipped up by their orca neigh­bours, and the two species feed side by side – un­heard of else­where on the planet.

S It’s a feed­ing frenzy out of this world. Noth­ing like it has been doc­u­mented in Nor­way be­fore. T

ESPEN BERGENSEN Espen is an award­win­ning wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher from Nor­way. See more of his work at natur­gal­leriet.no

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