A video of a humpback whale that appears to nearly swallow a surfer has become a huge hit on Youtube in recent days. It depicts the surfer and a pair of kayakers near the coast of Santa Cruz, California in calm waters when suddenly, a pair of giant humpback whales surface, mouths agape, missing the surfer by just a few feet.
Although the encounter surely gave the surfer a scare, these giant whales, which can grow to over 60 feet long, weren’t interested in having her for a meal. As with most large whales, humpbacks feed primarily on small sea life such as krill and schooling fish like herring and mackerel. Instead of teeth, humpbacks have rows of baleen plates used to trap their prey by the thousands when they open their mouths. Once the prey is caught, they simply drain the water and swallow their catch.
Whereas some baleen whales are relatively passive feeders, humpbacks are active hunters. When hunting schooling fish such as in the video, the whales will slap their fins against the water and use their blowholes to create a “bubble net”, working in teams to force the fish into tighter groups. Once the fish have been bunched together, the whales will lunge towards the surface, mouths agape, for an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet.