We departed Bay of Pillars curious as to why it had that name. There really aren’t any “pillars” although there are numerous small rocky islands and piles. Today’s itinerary was to be a short journey but it took longer than expected due to some welcome interference! While crossing Tebenkof Bay, which is part of a wilderness area of the same name, we noticed a concentrated collection of humpback whale blows. As we approached the whales and enjoyed their displays of tail-slapping, pec-slapping and a few small breaches, another boat radioed that there was bubble net feeding further south. We continued on our planned route and found ourselves surrounded by at least 3 different groups of humpbacks all bubble net feeding!
What an extraordinary experience!! The whales would congregate in, what seemed like a chaotic group of at least 15 individuals at the surface; breathing, swimming alongside one another and doing a series of surface dives. Then suddenly, they would all start, “sounding” and descend for longer deeper dives as evidenced by the flukes high in the air before the dive. They would disappear for a few minutes and then, all at once, break through the surface with their mouths agape swallowing huge mouthfuls of water and fish! They all seemed so crowded with a confused mass of pectoral fins and expanded throats. The gulls flew overhead and grabbed what fish they could which seemed a reckless activity with all those huge mouths agape.
As we watched, we could smell their breath and hear their vocalizations. One sounded like a trumpet or boat horn! Others sounded like groans, roars and moans. While one group of whales would organize for another set, another group would be breaking through the surface! We were all mesmerized and in disbelief at our luck to witness this activity. A pod of four orcas was noticed swimming through the area, undoubtedly feeding on the banquet of stunned fish in the area, as well as a couple sea lions around the edges feasting on salmon.
Bubble net feeding is a cooperative activity most of us had never witnessed! What a sight to behold. We watched and took hundreds of pictures in absolute awe as each whale took in more than 500 gallons of prey and water in a single lunge. After at least two hours, we decided to leave the whales to their feeding and head into Explorer Basin. This is also a huge protected basin with a ring of protective islands which make for loads of anchorages. As we approached our site, we avoided another humpback leisurely feeding in the basin. Sea otters popped their heads up to see who the visitors were. As soon as boats were secure, kayaks and dinghies were launched and most of us were off exploring this beautiful anchorage.
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