Humpback whale twirls through kelp ‘like a fork through spaghetti’; video

A humpback whale that has spent several weeks off Newport Beach, Calif., appears to have an insatiable fondness for kelp.

The gregarious whale doesn't eat seaweed; it just likes to roll in its amber strands, and on Sunday photographer Slater Moore captured stunning aerial footage showing the cetacean "spinning through kelp like a fork through spaghetti."

The whale, nicknamed Felix, frolicked in the kelp for 20 minutes while 144 whale-watchers watched from the Newport Legacy. The passengers, Moore said, "broke into a yell, or chant of excitement every time the whale broke the surface."


Humpback whale plows snout-first into a kelp paddy. Photo: Courtesy of Slater Moore/Newport Landing Whale Watching

This behavior, called kelping, is commonly practiced by humpback whales, gray whales and killer whales, although other whales also play in the kelp.

"When they’re not feeding, and resting or feeling inquisitive, fairly often they'll put their heads, flippers and flukes into the kelp," said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a Southern California-based whale researcher. "It probably feels good, like a spa day, with all that kelp rubbing against their skin."

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The researcher said this might help to explain why humpback whales often become entangled in ropes used by commercial trap fishermen. "They tend to be very curious about floats and lines, just as they are about kelp," Schulman-Janiger said.

While kelping is not rare, the aerial footage captured by Moore is extraordinary, and serves as yet another example of how drone photography is providing unique overhead perspectives of marine mammal behavior.

"It really was amazing to watch," Moore said.