Whale versus Bird

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Imagine you're a bird, you're minding your own business, leading your flock, when out of nowhere -- Humpback Whale tail! Either the Humpback has a serious dislike for birds, or while feeding this coincidence occurred. This video was shot in Juan Perez Sound, British Columbia, within the boundaries of Gwaii Haanas National Park and Haida Heritage Site.

Hat tip to my spouse, Bob O'Hara, who is celebrating his birdday today. Be sure to give him the gift of a cheap thrill by visiting his blog and wishing him a hoppy birdday!

Bonus points to those who can identify the bird species (I have a guess of my own).

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From flight pattern and closeness of the flock I would say a Scoter species, possibly Black Scoter as I can't see any white in the wings. I think the flight is too fast and "tight" for Cormorant. If I was on the East Coast (of the UK) on a seawatch they would definitely be Scoter sp.

Sorry didn't read the last bit, Happy Birdday Mr Grrl.

Please correct the location. Juan Perez Sound / Gwaii Haanas National Park is located in British Columbia, not Alaska. The Sound lies in the southern portion of this island archipelago previously known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, and now officially called Haida Gwaii. Humpback whales were hunted to extirpation in these islands before about 1930, but the whales have returned in recent years in fair numbers. As unlikely as it looks from the footage, the encounter with birds is almost certainly an accident - note the direction (relative to the whale) of the bird's approach.
Having kayaked in Juan Perez sound two years ago with perhaps 30 humpbacks in the local region, this footage has given me a new appreciation for the potential dangers of paddling with humpback whales.

I might not remember it correctly but wasn't there a mention some time back of certain sea birds nibbling on whales when they sound. I seem to remember a series of photos showing a bird landing on a surfaced whale, quickly ripping a chunk of flesh off a highly inflamed spot, and flying off. Took just a couple of seconds. This as the whale tries to stop it by rolling and diving.

Seems to me that if certain birds exploit whale flesh, and whales object, that the whales might associate the behavior with all birds and hold something of a grudge. Slapping at any bird that comes close enough as repayment for getting mercilessly pecked when all you where trying to do is lay back and breath. I suspect whales might be capable of frustration and misplaced revenge.

I would agree with you Art, that whales are certainly capable of frustration- they teach and learn, they cooperate, they exhibit anger, they scheme, they recognise and combat their enemies, and other cetaceans (killer whales and smaller dolphin species) have been shown to mourn their dead (and I would certainly recommend one to read When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Jeffrey Mousaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy)... in this case however, I have no doubt that this was merely coincidence given the fact the that the whale was facing the opposite direction and that the birds (good call Adrian!) were traveling low and fast... even had the whale been facing them it is unlikley it would have seen them approach anyway... dolphins have been shown to have good vision underwater and also in air (although they have problems with color in shallow water) but their beaked nose allows for forward and binocular vision (and they can even move their eyes independently), but with slightly larger species like killer whales, something called "spy-hopping" has been described as the way they raise their heads above water to see out of water... the positioning of larger whales' eyes, though not as problematic as related by Herman Melville when describing the head of a Sperm Whale, does not seem well-suited to binocular vision (depth perception) nor to the difficulties which would be associated with refracted light through water to air...

By David Hilmy (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink

Looks like a group of Black Scoters; The flight characteristics and the grouping, not to mention the habitat. I can almost hear the distinctive sound of their wings.



What have you got?

Well, there's egg and bacon,
egg sausage and bacon
Egg and spam
Egg, bacon and spam
Egg, bacon, sausage and spam
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Spam, spam, spam, egg and spam
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(Choir: Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Lovely Spam! Lovely Spam!)

Or Lobster Thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce
served in a provencale manner with shallots and aubergines
garnished with truffle pate, brandy and a fried egg on top and spam.

Have you got anything without spam?

Well, the spam, eggs, sausage and spam
That's not got much spam in it

I don't want any spam!

Why can't she have eggs, bacon, spam and sausage?

That's got spam in it!

Hasn't got much spam in it as spam, eggs, sausage and spam has it?

(Choir: Spam! Spam! Spam!...)

Could you do me eggs, bacon, spam and sausage without the spam, then?


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(Choir: Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!)

Waitress (to choir):
Shut up!

(Choir: Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!)

Shut Up! Bloody Vikings!
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(Choir: Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!)

Shut Up!! Baked beans are off.

Well, could I have her spam instead of the baked beans then?

You mean spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam,
spam and spam?

Choir (intervening):
Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!
Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
Spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam.
Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam!
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Explanation here.

By afarensis, FCD (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink

Lovely! Now just what do you intend to do with this dead parrot?

Lovely! Now just what do you intend to do with this dead parrot?

I don't care who you are; that's got to hurt.

It has to be a coincidence- Even if the whale had wanted to, there's no way for him to see back there well enough to time it right.

By Benton Jackson (not verified) on 19 Feb 2010 #permalink

In a nutshell. And I thought to myself, 'a little fermented curd will do the trick'. So I curtailed my Walpoling activites, sallied forth, and infiltrated your place of purveyance to negotiate the vending of some cheesy comestibles.


Thanks David!
Grrl, what was your guess? and Bob, who was the guy on your blog who was so insistant that they were Cormorants?

my guess was black scoter.

i asked bob your question, adrian, and he laughs and mumbles under his breath; "he's a strange guy."

Hello Grrl, somehow I'd guessed that Bob's answer would be along those lines! especially when he named it Neotropical.-