Nothing will get people on Whale Point running faster than the sound of a breaching humpback whale. It is astounding to watch a giant shoot out of the sea, twisting with pectoral fins flailing. The splash is tremendous, but the booming sound doesn't reach the shore for a least a second.
Humpbacks are well known for their acrobatics. We see them lob their heads against the water, over and over. We see pectoral fin slaps, tail slaps, rolling in kelp, and even playing with sea lions. We hear their excited tonal blows that sound like trumpeting elephants.
The humpback whales we spend our days with, have most likely spent their winters in Hawaii or Mexico, where they mate and give birth. They travel north to spend their summers feeding and socializing. The waters of northern British Columbia are an important part of their habitat, providing a quiet marine environment and lots of food.
After their long migration, this area is a nursery for mothers to feed and nurse their calves. Sometimes groups of mothers and calves socialize together, and it seems the young ones are practicing the acrobatic skills of the adults.
One of the most dramatic behaviors we witness is bubble net feeding. Groups of whales coordinate to hunt the massive amounts of their tiny prey. We are first alerted by hydrophone, their distinctive moaning and whooping feeding calls echoing through the water. Below the surface, a whale or two circles the small fish in tighter and tighter circles, blowing bubbles, trapping them in a watery net. On a very calm day, the bubbles boil to the surface, moments before a group of whales erupt in the center, mouths wide open, capturing the ball of fish they just herded. It is a powerful sight, and it is even more amazing when a dozen or more whales work together. After the giant bite, the whales dive, their tail flukes flipping up, one after another, until the ocean is calm and quiet again.
The humpbacks are not aways so dramatic. When they sleep, they can look like a log gently bobbing on the swells. Sometimes they are slipping quietly through the waves traveling speedily with only bushy blows of water vapor giving them away. Sometimes we can't see them at all, but can hear their feeding and socializing calls over the hydrophone.
In the fall, the male humpbacks start singing. It is rare to hear this outside of the winter breeding grounds. But season after season, the males start practicing their the new mating song they all will sing during the winter mating season.
Over the years we have identified hundreds of individual humpback whales who return year after year to these waters. Their numbers have steadily increased over the past couple of decades. We see them socializing in pairs, small groups, and large groups of up to sixteen. Groups form and re-form in different configurations, but often the same whales will be seen together throughout the summer.
On a lucky night we will fall asleep listening to a few humpbacks sleeping in Taylor Bight. The sound of their blows echoing off the mountains, as they rest, bobbing gently just at the surface.