Humpback Whales Feeding in Winter

In September 2013, I posted a photo, diagram and text describing what I thought may have been feeding behaviour by a humpback whale in Vava'u, Tonga.

General wisdom has it that humpback whales don't feed in the winter. They do so in the summer: in the southern hemisphere, around Antarctica; in the northern hemisphere, in Arctic waters.

humpback whale feeding in winter, sea of cortez
Humpback whale that looks like it is feeding. Winter, Sea of Cortez.

There is little doubt that humpback whales obtain most of their calories during the summer months, but over the years, I've heard many stories and seen behaviour that I thought suggestive of what might best be termed "opportunistic feeding" by humpback whales during their winter breeding season around Tonga.

Last September's encounter was the most extended period of observation I've had, and also the one that I took the best notes for, including challenging my meager Photoshop skills to draw a diagram of observed behaviour.

Since then, I've received some interesting bits of information to support the notion that humpbacks may in fact feed opportunistically during winter...meaning they probably won't pass up a free, easy meal if one comes their way in the non-buffet season.

First, Richard Sears, who is one of the world's top blue whale researchers and founded the Mingan Island Cetacean Study let me know through a mutual friend that he has seen humpback whales feeding on many occasions during the northern hemisphere winter in the Sea of Cortez.

Michael Fishbach of the Great Whale Conservancy backed this up with a couple of photos he's taken, of what appears to be humpback whales bubble-netting and lunge-feeding in the Sea of Cortez, again during winter.

humpback whale bubble net, sea of cortez winter
Bubble curtain from a humpback whale that might be feeding. Winter, Sea of Cortez.

Of course, this still isn't proof-positive, but it sure gives me more confidence.

Finally, a friend sent me a paper to read, titled: Opportunistic Feeding of an Adult Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) Migrating Along the Coast of Southeastern Queensland, Australia, authored by Karen A. Stockin and Elizabeth A. Burgess in 2005.

Just some food for thought. (The horrible pun is for you Bert.)