The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

Alien-like creature is a feeding Bryde’s whale

Photographer's extraordinary images reveal mammal in full balloon-mode after ingesting a large school of sardines

bryde'swhale1

Eduardo Acevedo Fernandez was not swallowed by the gigantic sea creature he encountered recently near the Canary Islands. But the short period he spent only a few feet away from the freakish-looking behemoth “were five seconds I will never forget in my life.”

The creature, although it resembles an alien being you might see featured in a science-fiction movie, was identified by Acevedo as a Bryde’s whale.

Brydeswhale2

Acevedo’s extraordinary photographs reveal the gargantuan mammal just as it has ingested practically an entire school of bait fish. If you look closely, you can see its eye and, in two of the photos, its dorsal fin.

Bryde’s whales are capable of extending and dislocating their lower jaw while feeding, in a manner similar to that of snakes, to encompass more foot. Their throat pleats, visible in the photos, span more than half of their bodies. This helps explain the balloon effect captured by Acevedo.

To capture these kind of images requires a combination of luck, bravado, and more luck.

bait

The photos have been widely shared on Facebook and on Tuesday Acevedo, a Spaniard who lives in Madrid, shared a brief back story regarding the “gray, dark, and windy day” in the Atlantic, outside the port of Los Gigantes, in Tenerife.

“After two hours of navigation I spotted in the distance something like a hurricane of birds throwing themselves at the sea,” the photographer said, via email. “Quickly we headed to where we saw something amazing, hundreds of common and spotted dolphins attacking a big ball of sardines, along with three [Bryde's] whales.

brydeswhale3

“The idea was to capture the exact moment of the whale attack on the ball of sardines, but we knew it was very difficult because of her extreme speed.”

Bryde’s whales, which range in tropical and temperate waters, can measure to about 50 feet and swim in bursts of up to 13 mph.

After several unsuccessful attempts to photograph feeding whales, Acevedo and his group finally anticipated correctly and jumped in just before a feeding event.

“I only had five to six seconds after the whale opened its mouth to eat, until it passed about three feet from me,” Acevedo said. “This huge mammal was about 12 meters long.”

He tried to position himself for more opportunities for the next 30 minutes. But by then the whales had consumed all the sardines and “everything was left in absolute calm.”

Acevedo used a Canon 5D Mark II, and a 15-millimeter lens in a water housing. He was shooting at F8, 1/160th, at ISO 400.

–Find Pete Thomas on Facebook and Twitter