Rare Footage Of Blue Whales Feeding Captured

David Reichart/SilverbackFilms/BBC

Picture a blue whale in your head. Whatever your imagination has come up with, it’s probably wildly wrong. They’re iconic animals, the biggest to have ever lived on the planet, yet we know so little about them. Despite exhaustive efforts, these camera-shy gentle giants have remained a frustrating enigma to us, until now.

As part of the BBC’s spellbinding series, “The Hunt,” a team headed by producer Hugh Pearson spent two years tracking these mammals off the coast of San Diego, California, and their footage will leave your jaw hanging.

Image credit: David Reichart/SilverbackFilms/BBC

Off the coast of California is a blue whale hotspot, but that does not mean these animals are easy to find. “The open ocean is pretty much a big blue desert – for the large part, there is little food,” Pearson told IFLScience. “Big predators, like the blue whale, have to travel far and wide to get food.”

For this species, that food is krill, tiny crustaceans found throughout the world’s oceans. Unfortunately for videographers, these prey tend to dwell deep, some 100-200 meters down, making filming blue whales a tricky task. Not only that, but krill feed on plankton, meaning if you have blue whales, the water is likely murky with poor visibility.

“For our first four-week shoot in 2013, the weather and water visibility were terrible,” Pearson recalls. “We got one shot. At this point, one questions ones sanity.” But the team pressed ahead and the following year, they were blessed not only with the creatures themselves, but with crystal clear waters for ten consecutive days. “I’m pretty confident that no one will ever see them like how we have filmed them.”

Image credit: David Reichart/SilverbackFilms/BBC

The spectacular footage was made possible thanks to high quality 4K cameras, and you’ll be able to see a whole lot more when the program airs on BBC One on Sunday 22 November at 9.00 p.m. GMT (4.00 p.m. EST). The crew manages to get within two meters of a blue whale, so you are guaranteed an extraordinary view.

“We got footage of them feeding, no one has ever shown how they feed on krill before,” said Pearson. “They blow up like giant tadpoles, they double in weight. A 100-tonne whale takes in 100 tonnes of water and krill.” And that’s necessary when the animals travel far and wide to find feeding spots, which are often ephemeral; their food moves around a lot. “You see some that are very, very thin, they have vertebrae sticking out. When they find food, they have to take advantage.”

Image credit: David Reichart/SilverbackFilms/BBC

And take advantage they do, unhinging their jaws and gobbling the whole group of krill. A spectacular scene to witness, as you can see in the fantastic shot above. If all of this has got you hankering for more, then unfortunately you’ll have to wait until Sunday. Until then, check out a preview:

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