Leaping out of the water in majestic fashion, these acrobatic female humpback whales seem to fly with the nimble grace of a dolphin a fraction of their size.
Majestic: A female humpback whale breaches the waters at Frederick Sound in the Alexander Archipelago, south-east Alaska
Feeding frenzy: Humpback whales catch herring in a ‘bubble-net’ near Angoon in Frederick Sound, in the Alexander Archipelago, south-east Alaska
Mr Cornforth, 39, from Seattle, took the breathtaking photos during a visit Frederick Sound, near south-east Alaska. ‘They really are fantastic creatures to get so up close to,’ he said.
‘They are extremely curious creatures – they are interested in us just like we’re interested in them.
‘There was a moment when one actually came up underneath me and looked like it might try to swallow one of the the boats.
‘But luckily they’re far too clever to mistake a boat for their usual prey.’
The pictures also show the sisterhood of the sea beasts ‘bubble net’ feeding. The whales feed from huge shoals of herring that spawn in the area by acting in concert to herd the fish.
One or two plunge up to 500ft underwater and blow air bubbles in a circular pattern, trapping their prey so the rest of the 12-strong group can scoop up them up.
Behemoths: Mr Cornforth watched the whales for over 12 weeks over a period of four years to take these photos
Ritual: The entirely female group gathers at the same spot at the same time each year
Belly flop: The 45-ton whales seem to be able to throw themselves through the air as nimbly as a performing dolphin
The entirely female group forms on the exact same spot each year, AND each creature performs exactly the same role in hunting each time.
‘It’s a mystery as to why females come together in this way,’ said Mr Cornforth. ‘They may have a matriarchal society like some groups of killer whales.
‘I’ve seen the same females perform the same job of diving down to create the bubble net time after time.
‘The bubble net is created far below the surface and can be as big as 75m in diameter – in order to catch the enormous herring swarms.
‘They are such powerful animals that they can do this every four to five minutes for as long as ten hours.’
Moby click: Photographer Jon Cornforth takes pictures of the breaching humpback whales
Mr Cornforth watched the whales for over 12 weeks over a period of four years to take these photos. On his most recent trip, he had to travel 120 miles by boat and spent three days relentlessly searching the ocean to finally find his prize.
‘Humpback whales are incredible mammals,’ he said. ‘They rise above the water for only a second – and then they vanish into the waves once again.
‘It’s brief, but breathtaking – and worth all the effort. When people see these pictures I hope they get a sense of just how glorious it is to be in their presence.’