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Coming soon: Everything you wanted to know about Juneau’s most popular humpbacks

Flame, whose tail is pictured above, is one of Juneau’s most frequently spotted humpback whales in recent years.
(Photo courtesy Brianna Pettie
Flame, whose tail is pictured above, is one of Juneau’s most frequently spotted humpback whales in recent years.

There’s about to be a new resource to educate locals, tour guides and visitors about the humpback whales of Southeast Alaska.

A larger list of all the individual humpback whales that have been spotted swimming around Juneau already exists and just about every local whale-watching outfit has a copy onboard. But a group of marine mammal enthusiasts is working on a simplified version.

Shannon Easterly is a local whale watching guide in the summer, and she’s been working with marine mammals all over the country for about 10 years. For the past few months, she and three others (Gabrille Lopez, Brianna Pettie and Jayleen Bydlon) have been working on making a new, condensed catalog of humpbacks.

“The goal of the project is basically to make a mini catalog,” Easterly said. “[We want] to take that well over 100 whales and shrink it down to about the 20 most commonly sighted whales in Juneau.”

The new catalog will have fewer individuals in it, but will have a lot more information about each whale. Easterly said they hope to provide tour guides with more detailed profiles of Juneau’s most frequently spotted flukes — also known as whale tails.

“So a great example would be one of our whales, Flame,” Easterly said. “She is probably the most commonly sighted whale in Juneau waters in recent years. The photo of her in the catalog is great. There’s a little bit of information about her. [It] says that she’s a known female, things like that. But what we really want to do is build something that doesn’t just include that, but also includes information like ‘Is that whale a whale the breeds in Hawaii or in Mexico?’”

For instance, Flame is a whale that breeds in Hawaii, and she’s been sighted in Maui.

“And we also know that she has had calves in at least 2013, 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021,” Easterly said. “[Flame] is a prolific lady.”

The new catalog will also include facts like where the whale was first recorded, where it’s most commonly seen feeding and which other animals it hangs around with.

“Are they typically seen alone? Like, Flame prefers to be alone,” Easterly said. “It’s also fun to talk about the fact that she doesn’t really like killer whales and will actively avoid them or be aggressive toward them. Those little personality quirks that set one whale apart from another are some of the things that we want to include.”

All of the photos in the catalog were taken by one of the four guides and researchers working on the project. A lot of the data comes from a citizen science website, managed by Duke University, where anyone in the world can contribute information about their own whale sightings.

Easterly said she hopes knowing more about Juneau’s whales will help both tour guides and tourists make more meaningful, personal connections with the animals.

“It’s on everybody’s bucket list to see a whale, and we want you to take that home — not just with a pretty picture, but with a story about that animal and to know who they are, so that it’s an important part of your trip and [so it will] maybe inform your decisions conservation-wise moving forward,” Easterly said.

So far, the mini catalog is 42 pages long, with each animal having two pages dedicated to it. When it’s finished, the catalog will likely be distributed in Facebook groups for local whale watch guides and other social media sites.

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