Various Survival Strategies Used By Northern Gannet To Coexist With Humpback Whales Along The Shores Of LBI

The Four Strategies, from left to right: Stand Your Ground, Eat Everything As Fast As You Can, Hide, and Book It Outta There.
The Four Strategies in One Frame
The Four Strategies in One Frame

Recently, Reader “Leroy” commented that the Northern Gannet were “scoundrels” and that they were “full of nerve” for interfering with our views of the Humpback Whales. Let’s talk about that. The truth is that they are both welcome visitors to the Island whose hijinks and antics provide plenty of entertainment for us Beach Bums when they each migrate through each Spring and Fall.

Chaos
Chaos, Spring 2015

The trouble this year is scheduling. Nature usually has our various Migration Spectacles as finely programmed as NBC’s Must See TV Thursdays once were. Usually their appearances are somewhat staggered, with the Whales vacationing hereabouts in September and October, and the Gannet following shortly after. The reverse is true in the Spring when the clouds of Gannet entertain us during dull Easter/Passover/Ostara (look it up) suppers, and the Whales follow shortly to keep us busy while we wait for Memorial Day.

But this year we’re all jammed up as if their were some unexpected Presidential Address or long-overtime Football Game that threw off the whole schedule. So with the Bunker, Stripers, and Whales running a little late, we have chaos at Sea. It is very much like watching Friends, or maybe The Single Guy, & Seinfeld at the same time (to further the NBC Must See TV Thursday analogy.) It is total insanity out there as we attempt to trust our peripheral vision to recognize a single Whale Blow over a vast Sea, while thousands of Gannet dive bomb that same Sea making endless splashes that, while thinner, are the same height as Whale Blow so register as such even with finely tuned peripheral vision.

Gorgeous Gannet
Gorgeous Gannet, Spring 2015

But forget about us and our little difficulties. What is most intriguing about this whole scene is that the Gannet & the Humpbacks are nom noming on the same foods at the same time, on our tiny shores, only they are coming at it from opposite directions. The Gannet are dive bombing the poor Bunker from the sky while the Whales lunge up at them from the bottom of the Sea. Sure, this happens in the open Ocean all the time… but right here? From the comfort of our Beach Chairs?

If you follow that through, you can imagine the enthusiasm with which I’ve been watching the Sea trying to catch a glimpse of a hapless Gannet being, inadvertently, swallowed whole by a Humpback Whale. Thankfully, or Sadly, depending on your perspective, I have not seen it. But in the course of my study, I did manage to identify the four key survival strategies employed by the Gannet for coexisting with the Humpback Whales where they might meet at the surface of the Sea.

And amazingly, while scouring through my photos to find an example of each for you, I found a single photo with an example of all four in a single frame. Here is that photo again:

The Four Strategies, from left to right: Stand Your Ground, Eat Everything As Fast As You Can, Hide, and Book It Outta There.
The Four Strategies, from left to right: Stand Your Ground, Eat Everything As Fast As You Can, Hide, and Book It Outta There.

The Four Strategies, From Left To Right:

  1. Stand Your Ground
  2. Eat Everything As Fast As You Can
  3. Hide
  4. Book It Outta There

Happy Humpbacking. And good luck finding true Whale Blow amidst the diving Gannet. Remember that Gannet splashes are sharp, thin, vertical, and quick. Whale Blow is soft, wide, cloud-like, and, in light winds, slower to dissipate.