Nine miles off the wild coast of southern Alaska, a drone flits over the wide blue ocean. Below, the great, gray forms of humpback whales break through the surface of the water again and again. A pod is on the move, and technology is about to capture something so incredible that it will blow your mind.
How much do we really know about our oceans? Although they envelop a staggering 70 percent of the planet’s surface, experts estimate that we have only explored a tiny fraction of their mass. It’s often said, in fact, that we have a greater knowledge of the Moon than we do of the ocean floor.
Times are changing fast, however. While it’s still expensive and time-consuming to equip research ships and submarines for surveying the depths, there’s now a new way to discover the oceans’ farthest reaches. Yes, equipped with modern drones, explorers are able to see the world in a whole new light.
Today, there are thought to be more than 770,000 drone users in the United States alone. By removing the need for a traditional human pilot, these lightweight – and often affordable – aircraft have provided a convenient way for hobbyists and amateurs to begin exploring places that were previously inaccessible, at least outside of expensive expeditions.
With cameras attached, such drones have come to play an important role in mapping parts of the planet that are still relatively unexplored. Now, then, everything from remote mountain tops to desert islands can be easily filmed – and YouTube is full of the results.
One of the other benefits of drone filming is that far-flung habitats can be observed without the risk of disturbing the native wildlife. As a result, some of nature’s rarest and most exciting biological phenomena are being captured on camera for the first time.
One incredible recent example of this came from a YouTube channel known as AkXpro Scenic Global Adventures. In 2014 the people behind the channel uploaded a video filmed with a GoPro Drone. And, captured off the coast of Alaska, the footage revealed a jaw-dropping sight.
According to the channel, the footage was shot in the Gulf of Alaska in waters that were approximately 250 feet deep. The location was apparently some nine miles to the northwest of Cape Cleare, which is found in the far southwest of Montague Island, AK.
At some 300 square miles, Montague Island is among the U.S.’ biggest uninhabited islands. Because of this, it has become a haven for wildlife, especially brown bears. Happily, the situation is the same offshore, too, and several species of whale are known to stalk the waters around the island.
What AkXpro managed to capture, though, was something truly incredible even by Alaskan standards. In the footage, a pod of humpback whales can be seen making their way through the ocean. As they swim, their blowholes shoot jets of water into the sky, creating an incredible scene.
But the real stunner comes some 45 seconds into the video, when the whales can be observed in an unusual formation. According to experts, it’s a technique known as bubble net feeding – and to capture it on camera is truly extraordinary.
Humpback whales do not feed in the same way that humans do. As migratory animals, in fact, they only need to eat for around six months of every year. However, when they are in their feeding grounds – like this stretch of water off the coast of Alaska – they need to eat approximately 3,000 pounds of food each day.
This binge-eating ultimately provides the whales with sufficient fat reserves to see them through the breeding season, which typically occurs during the winter months. Sourcing so much food is no easy task, however. So, in order to fill their bellies, the humpback whales have had to resort to some unusual techniques.
First observed in the Norwegian Sea in 1929, bubble net fishing has intrigued marine biologists ever since. A cooperative feeding technique, it’s practiced by groups of whales ranging in size from two to 60. Even single animals have also been known to hunt in a similar way.
During bubble net fishing, whales work together to corral fish such as herring into a small space. Beginning beneath the surface, the whales expel air from their blowholes, creating an enclosure of bubbles that traps their prey. Then, as the feeding call is made, the mammals swim up and capture the fish in their open mouths.
Somewhat amazingly, though, research has suggested that bubble net feeding is not actually instinctive to humpback whales. Instead, it is thought that individual populations somehow learn the technique. Some researchers believe that there are in fact pods that have never mastered the skill.
Moreover, although the phenomenon is stunning, it is so rare that scientists still have much to learn about it. Exactly how the fish become trapped by the air bubbles, for example, remains a matter of some debate. Most researchers, however, believe that the technique evolved out of necessity when humpback whales were hunted to the brink of extinction.
And while humpback whales are no longer classed as endangered, U.S. authorities still enforce strict rules to protect the animals’ habitats. Whale watching trips, for instance, are usually barred from coming within 900 feet of the creatures. So, given this, drones remain among the best means through which to observe such fascinating behavior.
In southern Alaska, coastal glaciers have created nutrient-rich ecosystems where fish thrive. This makes it the perfect location in which to observe humpback whales engaging in bubble net feeding. Nevertheless, the team at AkXpro were lucky to capture such a stunning scene on film.
To date, the channel’s video has been viewed more than 220,000 times. And, understandably, commenters have been quick to praise the amazing footage. But will the growing population of humpback whales mean that this phenomenon becomes a more common sight? Nature lovers everywhere must be keeping their fingers crossed.
Of course, capturing drone footage doesn’t always go to plan. When Artem Tkachenko sent his drone out to capture the Bahamas’ seas, in fact, he thought he saw a terrifying sight. At first, Tkachenko’s drone sent stunning footage directly back to him. But then the man noticed four dark shapes swimming towards a child in the ocean. He suddenly thought the school of sharks were hunting for dinner – and that they had the boy in their sights.
To many, the Bahamas is an ideal foreign vacation location. It has sun, sand and sea in abundance, after all. And although the country is part of the Americas, it’s technically a sovereign state under the British monarchy. It’s also not just one landmass – hence its plural name.
The Bahamas is actually an archipelago of over 700 islands amid the world’s clearest seas. So when you factor in the country’s tropical weather, it’s little wonder that so many tourists hold it in such high regard. But some people are drawn to the Bahamas for other reasons entirely.
To be more specific, diving enthusiasts flock to the archipelago because its waters are teeming with sharks. Caribbean reef, bull, lemon, tiger and hammerhead sharks are just some of the toothier inhabitants found in the Bahamas. And shark tourism is big business for dive operators.
Of course, not everybody is a big fan of these predators. This is arguably partly the results of past media scares and frightening films such as Jaws. But shark attacks on humans are in fact incredibly rare. The chances of being bitten in American waters are, for example, estimated to be just one in 11.5 million.
And a fatal shark attack is even less likely: the odds are around one in 250 million. With this in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that you rarely see shark attacks captured on film. But that’s exactly what could have happened in December 2017 when Bahamas cameraman Artem Tkachenko sent out his drone.
Tkachenko’s YouTube channel normally features videos displaying some of the amazing views and attractions that the archipelago offers. However, his shark clip, added on December 19, 2017, is by far his most popular footage. The video has now received well over two million views, and it’s easy to understand why.
Tkachenko had no intention of capturing such dramatic footage, though. The cameraman actually sent out his drone to scan the beach and its coast, paying little attention to its visitors. And if that had been all that he’d filmed, then the material still would have been pretty incredible.
The drone video shows the perfect seas that the Bahamas are known for and an idyllic beach of pristine sands. It’s a site that’s obviously popular for sunbathing too. There are naturally various families topping up their tans in deckchairs or marvelling at the sparkling ocean.
A young boy then runs out of the beachfront building and dashes along the sand towards the sea. He subsequently plunges into the ocean without missing a beat before circling around for another quick dive. But the boy’s not alone in the ocean.
As the child propels himself into the water for a second time, a dark shape approaches him. The advancing creature is actually one of the country’s famous predators: a shark. The swimming kid is having so much fun, however, that he’s seemingly oblivious to its presence.
Watching a single shark advancing towards the swimmer is terrifying enough, but the camera reveals that the creature isn’t alone. Three other sharks are heading for the shallow waters, in fact, presumably attracted to the splashing. The boy then unknowingly turns his back on the approaching predators.
It looks as if the sharks are attempting to form a ring around their target. According to a Daily Mail report in January 2018, the cameraman then screamed a warning to the boy, telling the child to flee.
Apparently as a result of Tkachenko’s quick reactions, the boy quickly reached water that’s too shallow for the sharks. Next, he ran up the beach and onto the safety of dry land. Tkachenko later said he was incredibly relieved that the child had managed to move out of harm’s way.
“Thank God he heard me,” Tkachenko told the Daily Mail. But how much danger was the boy actually in? There’s certainly been some contention online with regards to that subject. Some people even believe the sharks hadn’t posed a threat to the young swimmer at all.
These viewers argued that the creatures were in fact nurse sharks, which do live in the Bahamas. This species of fish is still predatory, but experts don’t consider them overly dangerous. Though they’re capable of biting humans if they feel threatened.
Tkachenko himself, however, disputed that the sharks were harmless and posted a direct reply on YouTube. He wrote, “I saw two kinds of sharks there. Check this video, and you will see.” In addition, the cameraman provided a link to another video of a species that he believes the sharks in his footage belong to.
Regardless of who’s correct, it’s perhaps more important to note that sharks have a far worse reputation than they deserve. If the creatures were heading towards the boy to attack him, they likely did so unaware that he was a human. Some experts even believe that sharks bite us just to see what we are.
In July 2015 Macquarie University fish biologist Culum Brown spoke to The Guardian about this very matter. “The trouble with sharks is that they are inquisitive,” Brown said. “And when checking out a potential prey item, they typically come up and have a nibble. [But] we do know that sharks don’t like to eat people.”
“Your toaster is more likely to kill you than a shark,” Brown concluded. Still, the most vital issue is that the youth managed to get to dry land safe and sound. It’s also nice to know that there are decent people such as Tkachenko looking out for others. His timely warning might just have saved a life, after all.