Pelican escapes jaws of lunge-feeding whale

Pelican escapes jaws of lunge-feeding whale
Finds itself in the jaws of a whale; photo by ©Kate Cummings/Blue Ocean Whale Watch

It's an interesting dynamic when humpback whales begin to lunge feed on anchovies they've frightened to the surface, because as they're charging upward, with their enormous mouths agape, gulls and pelicans are diving on the same bait fish.

Sometimes, for the much smaller birds, a teachable moment occurs: They've either mistimed their dives or failed to get out of the way while resting on the water.

Rarely, however, is this event captured so perfectly by a photographer.

The accompanying image was captured over the weekend by Kate Cummings, who runs Blue Ocean Whale Watch in Monterey, California. It shows the moment a feeding pelican became stuck in the jaws of a feeding humpback, with only its head and right wing protruding from the cetacean's mouth.

pelican in whale jaw

Also visible is baleen, which whales use to sift small fish from huge volumes of water. The baleen would have prevented the pelican from actually being swallowed.

Cummings stated on Facebook: "Find the unhappy pelican! (who was happy again a few moments later when the humpback whale let it go)."

There were seven humpbacks feeding in a small area at the time. "We clearly saw the pelican get gobbled up, but then quickly released before the humpback submerged,” Cummings said. “The pelican looked perfectly fine—no evidence of wing damage or anything."

We've circled the bird in red for added effect (top image) and perused some of dozens of comments Cummings' post received.

Perhaps the best was from Efren Bauer Adalem, who wrote: “Great capture. Let this be a warning to those kayakers and paddleboarders who get too close. Accidents can happen!"

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