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Irish Humpback Whales are Specialists in Bubble Net and Trap Feeding Techniques!

Humpback Whale off Blaskets E.Q. 2.0

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Irish Humpback  Whales Specialsts at Bubble Net Feeding Techniques!

During the late summer / early autumn of 2018 Irish whale watching season Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours was involved in the making of a documentary, to be shown in February 2019, showing the bubble netting techniques of humpback whales in Irish waters. The weather was poor, visibility was often bad, but on the second last day of the week-long charter we documented two humpback whales bubble netting for prey (sprat) and on further examination of the film footage it was discovered that they were involved in some pretty unique bubble netting methods which included both "bubble netting" and "trapping"........

"Bubble netting" or bubble net feeding is a technique by which some (but not all) families of humpback whales sound below a shoal of forage fish such as sprat and exhale a spiral net of bubbles in which to entrap the fish and they rush towards the surface to try and escape the virtual net of bubbles encompassing them pursued by the humpback who then gulps them up........

 "Trapping" is a hunting method previously only observed off North West America / Canada where humpback whales loll on the surface with their mouths gaping open and creating a micro current by imperceptively moving their large pectoral fins ( which are two thirds the length of their body) and thus entrap their prey who literally swim into their vast cavernous mouths which are distended by a factor of three due to their pleated extendable lower jaw. The method is only usually used when the prey species are scarce.

But from observations we made last summer and soon to be released by the film production company in February 2019, Irish whales appear to have adopted a combination of the two fishing methods, probably in response to the scarcity of the shoaling sprat due to the unrestricted fishing for them in inshore Irish waters as "garbage fish" -  i.e. uncommercial grade fish sold for fishmeal to industrial fish meal processing plants (at €100 per ton) which is less than the price paid per ton ( €150 per ton) for garbage!!
The interesting thing about the "Irish" humpback whales adopting the trapping method as well as the more established bubble netting method is that this method seems to have evolved independently of the humpback whales adopting this method recently in the North East Pacific from where there is no transfer of gene pool or culture.

The E.Q. of Humans, Chimps, Elephants, Dolphins and Whales

The E.Q. (encephalization quotient) of species is a measure of the extent to which brain size deviates from the expected brain size for a given weight within a particular group of organisms.
The E.Q. for great apes, elephants, chimanzees and whales is about 2; the E.Q. for dolphins is about 4 and the E.Q. for humans is about 7. Interestingly white-sided dolphins and common dolphins have slightly higher E.Q. than bottlenose dolphins which may come from the fact that they are often present in bigger and more complex schools and super pods of thousands which are the marine equivalent of mobile urban congregations and the orderly interaction of the various individuals and groups requires a lot of "intelligence".

Whales are relatively low on the E.Q. scale for mammals, although mammals are the most intelligent species in the animal kingdom, with humans being the most intelligent of the mammals, which is surprising since humans appear to be intent on destroying the biosphere and also appear to be heading for self-extinction. Dolphins are the closest to humans in E.Q. and also in the development of the folded cerebral cortex region of their brains which is linked to intelligence.
Yet, probably due to stress ( a great driver of changing evolutionary traits) and necessity to improve fishing techniques due to limited resources, it appears that humpback whales off the Irish coast may be enlarging their brain capacity (eventually) by inventing virtual tools and techniques which may put them on a par with their land based fellow mammalians in Silicon Valley!
A transitory, spiral, virtual net of bubbles, apparently appearing from nowhere ( but we know it is created from the ascending whales lungs and mouth through his respiratory system) entrapping a shoal of fish and then disappearing in the ether is a wonder of nature to behold. Now it appears that at least two humpback whales off the Irish coast, whose identity we know, have combined this with the second fishing method of "trapping" with one whale of the pair lolling strategically with open gape at the surface near the edge of the virtual net ,trapping any fish that escape from the net being created by the other ascending whale who is blowing the bubbles.
Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours look forward to the production of the film documenting this unique combination of fishing methods using virtual tools by intelligent marine mammals which is coming out in February 2019 and also look forward to the interpretation by the documentary maker of this unique fishing method.
It appears to us that this lends credence to the old expression "Necessity is the mother of invention" which applies equally throughout the animal kingdom of which we are just a tiny part.

Learning from Dolphins and Whales

Perhaps it is no coincidence that at the same time the humpback whales' mammalian relatives in Silicon Valley are inventing virtual games and techniques, humpback whales off the west coast of Ireland are developing their own virtual toolkit and repertoire to cope with limited resources and perhaps we should tap into their intelligent use of resources or the lack thereof.

Dolphins and whales may even be able to teach us how to be a more sociable and more caring sort of animal species, which was the basis on which our expanded E.Q. was built in the first instance, rather than trying to eradicate the rest of the biosphere.

The sustainable use of resources and protection of so called "garbage fish" (sprat and sand eels) which are the basis of the food web on which animals - other commercial grade fish, cetaceans, sea birds and humans - depend, would be a good place to start.!

Log of the Whale Watch Tour Boat M.V. "Blasket Princess"        10.01.2019

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