The highlight of day 6 was a close encounter with a pod of humpback whales. The whales were using their bubble netting technique, in which they blow a wall of bubbles to corral a school of tasty herring, chase them to the surface, and engulf them. Our guide Karl explained that the alpha female coordinates the action using her song to synchronize the pod's actions. Apparently they are quite selective about which whales they are willing to bubble net with.
After chowing down, the whales would swim abreast, take some breaths, and then dive for more. We had a great time trying to guess where they would resurface.
Our first surprise came when the pod was feeding very close to the shore in False Bay. After traveling a few hundred yards, the pod suddenly turned 90 degrees and headed toward our skiff. The photo above shows one whale about ten feet from the skiff. After that shot, I put down my camera to enjoy the sight of the fifty-foot critters as they passed a few feet away.
Happily, Esther was filming with her Flip. Her video captures both the closeness of the encounter and the delight of our fellow travelers:
And here's how it looked from another skiff nearby:
If you want to hear the alpha female singing as she coordinates the pod, check out this video. If you listen to the end, you will hear her change pitch, signaling for the whales to surface.
We almost had an even closer encounter a few minutes later. As the skiff lay idle in the water, we noticed large bubbles coming up all around us. The whales were herding herring directly below us. Karl put the skiff in reverse to get out of the way. And as we looked into the water, we could see the white pectoral fins of the humpbacks as they called off their ascent perhaps ten feet under the water.