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