The Elding whale watching boat took tourists out from Akureyri on Saturday and the trip started normally enough. Then, near Grenivík, those on the boat spotted several humpback whales hunting in a strange and unusual manner never before caught on film (see above).
Tess Hudson, marine biologist and whale watching tour guide, says it was incredible to see the humpbacks working together to hunt, which is extremely rare. She describes how one whale would dive down and release a large stream of bubbles while the others would swim circles around the fish, driving them upwards. When near the surface, the whales would simply open their mouths and suck the fish in.
A few humpbacks are known to work together whilst hunting in some parts of the world, jointly creating a curtain or “fishing net” of bubbles to direct their prey. Tess says the behaviour witnessed in Iceland was similar, but that the whales opened their mouths sideways or diagonally.
She says this has never before been witnessed in Iceland—adding that her research so far has not found evidence of this exact behaviour anywhere else before.
People on the boat watched the whales repeat the hunting technique for about an hour, and it appeared to work well.
Tess says it is impossible to say how the technique was born, but explains that whales learn from one another, so it could be a patchwork of different whales’ hunting tips mixed together.
Only around a hundred whales in the world are known to hunt with bubbles to date. It could be a sign that they are changing their methods to overcome food shortages.
A detailed record is held of all whales seen around Iceland in recent years and Tess says these particular individuals appear to be new to the country. “And who knows, maybe they’ll teach the whales here to hunt like that,” she says.
The video above is in Icelandic with interviews in English.