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

A whale tale near a boat.
Flame, whose tail is pictured above, is one of Juneau’s most frequently spotted humpback whales in recent years. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Pettie)

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

A group of marine mammal enthusiasts is working on making a new, condensed catalog of the whales commonly spotted in Juneau.

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

Easterly is working on the project with Gabrille Lopez, Brianna Pettie and Jayleen Bydlon.

She said the new catalog will have fewer individuals in it, but will have a lot more information about each. (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 on board.)

Easterly said her group hopes 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?’”

Gabrille Lopez photographs a humpback whale in Auke Bay.
Gabrille Lopez photographs a humpback whale in Auke Bay. Lopez is  one of four people working on creating a new catalog of Juneau’s most-sighted humpback whales. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Easterly)

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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