The Virtual Whale Project
3D Animation and sound environment for the visualization of the feeding behaviours of Pacific Humpback Whales

What goes on below the waves?
The humpback is the renegade among the mysticete whales. Whether wooing mates with song, or engaging in combative sexual displays, this whale breaks all the rules. Perhaps nowhere is their enigmatic behaviour more evident than on the feeding grounds in Southeast Alaska. After traveling thousands of miles to these northern summering areas, Hawaiian humpbacks engage in bizarre feeding behaviours, many of which we are only beginning to understand.

Schools of Pacific herring are one of their favourite targets. But capturing these fast agile fish requires an arsenal of feeding tactics. One of their most effective ploys is to band together in large groups, which may number nearly two dozen whales. The whales will then deploy bubbles, broadcast of loud, trumpet-like sounds, and the flash of their flippers at the schools. These tactics apparently herd the prey up towards the surface, where they then become trapped within the confines of a huge bubble net. Rocketing up through this tunnel of bubbles, the whales engulf the entire fish school in their cavernous mouths.

Despite this grand finale, most of the complex behaviours that lead up to the surface lunge take place underwater. Here at Simon Fraser University, we are using a variety of research tools including sonar, dive tags, and hydrophones to understand what happens when these whales slip below the waves. The Virtual Whale Project was developed help us interpret our data with the use of 3D Graphics and sound. Perhaps one of our most important goals, however, is to use the Virtual Whale Project as an education and conservation tool to celebrate the lives of humpback whales.

Talk back to The Virtual Whale Project at Virtual-Whales@sfu.ca
1995,1996,1997 D.Cowperthwaite, M.Coyle,
F.Sharpe