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Rare sighting of large gathering of feeding humpback whales in Australia

A rare sighting of large numbers of humpback whales feeding together off the coast of Australia has been captured on film.

Humpbacks usually feed during the austral (southern hemisphere) summer in the cold waters around Antarctica before heading north to breed and give birth in warmer waters. The whales are not thought to feed much during their migration.

However, over a period of two months in September and October 2020, large groups of humpbacks were repeatedly sighted feeding together off the east coast of Australia. The number of individuals in these "super groups" ranged from 20 to 90 individuals, far exceeding the previous record of just 12.

The whales repeatedly got together as they migrated south over a distance of around 1,000km.

What made the sightings even more special was that some whales were seen feeding using a technique known as bubble-netting. This involves the whale releasing bubbles as it heads to the surface to corral and stun the fish before gulping down the shoal as the whale surfaces.

While this method of feeding is well known amongst humpbacks in the northern hemisphere, it has never been seen before in the southern hemisphere outside Antarctica.

The film was recorded off New South Wales in 2020 but has only just been released as part of a recently published scientific paper.

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About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.

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