When anchovies school tightly together and form a bait ball, it rarely turns out well for the tiny fish. Dolphins and sea lions pluck from the perimeter, while gulls pick them off from overhead.
But when ravenous a humpback whale is nearby, the anchovies' defense strategy proves to be completely futile.
The spectacular aerial footage accompanying this post, captured Wednesday by Newport Coastal Adventure in Southern California, shows the full formation of the bait ball before the whale arrives.
"Watch at 30 seconds as the humpback enters from stage left and gulps the whole thing down," says the company's Facebook description.
Viewers can see the whale's ventral pleats expand during the initial gulp, which eliminated much of the bait ball. But the remaining anchovies were steadfast; they continued to ball up, which allowed the humpback whale to continue feeding until there were no anchovies left.
"We watched before our eyes as a school of about 2,000 anchovies was eaten to the very last one,” Capt. Ryan Lawler told GrindTV.
This type of lunge feeding is more common off Central California, but humpback whales are being encountered fairly regularly this season off Southern California.
Lawler, who operated the camera-fitted drone while aboard his inflatable charter boat, said Wednesday's feeding event off Newport Beach occurred just after noon.
"The anchovies were feeding at the surface on plankton, and in turn, the dolphins and the humpback whale were corralling the anchovies into balls and feeding on them," Lawler said. "We saw at least a half dozen lunge feeds in a span of 15 minutes by this one whale, and then everything went back to normal."
Humpback whales,which can weigh up to 40 tons, feed largely on shrimp-like krill and anchovies. A single whale can eat more than 1 ton per day, so it appears that the anchovies in Lawler's video represented a mere snack.
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