Weekly Whale Feature: 'Flame'

Posted: Friday, May 28, 2010

Name: Flame / Smudge / NOAA No. SEAK 1538

Courtesy Of Jay Beedle / For The Juneau Empire
Courtesy Of Jay Beedle / For The Juneau Empire

Gender: Female (this information has not been confirmed)

When to look: This whale has frequented the Juneau area every year for the last five years. It is possible she's been in local waters longer. Flame can usually be spotted from the beginning of June through the summer months and on into winter. Some pictures put her here as late as Jan. 19.

Where: Waters near Juneau and in particular the waters around Shelter Island. North Pass, the Barlow Islands and Favorite Reef are all good places to look for Flame.

Markings: Like most whales seen in the area, Flame is a beautiful whale! Her large tail has black around the edges and lots of white on the main area of the fluke. Her fluke looks a lot like her mother's (Snow White) and she is often mistaken for her, and vise versa. To identify her, look for the black, vertical scratch on the right side of the fluke. Additionally, there is a very small U-shaped cut-out on the top left trailing edge of her fluke. Finding these markings are good ways to pinpoint Flame. Why the name? Flame was already named.

Behavior: Like her mother, Flame is fun to watch. Her dive times are typically from four to 10 minutes long and her fluke often comes high out of the water before a deep dive. She does not usually partake in bubble net feeding. However, in August of 2007, she was part of a pod that was bubble feeding at Point Retreat. My daughter, Jayleen, took a picture of her breaching in 2007. The only other time I've seen her breach and tail lob was in 2009 by Favorite Reef. Generally, her demeanor can be considered conservative and she's often focused on feeding. Flame can be seen by herself or with other whales in the area.

Notes: Once, during a five-day period, Flame traveled from the pass at the north end of Shelter Island to Point Adolphus, near Gustavus, and back again to the pass. On Aug. 15, 2008, Flame and four other whales had been feeding separately in North Pass all day long. At about 7 p.m. that day three of the whales - Flame, Black Barnacle and one other I could not identify - got together in a tight group and started swimming toward Eagle River at a speed of about 10 miles per hour, surfacing and blowing every three minutes or so. The group changed directions every now and then, but maintained the same speed. They reached Gull Island, headed south, then north, then eventually back to toward the pass. When we left them, they had worked their way along the east coast of Lincoln Island and were headed off at the same speed in the direction of Haines. To me, it seemed like an evening swim with some friends. This behavior seemed strange as I have only seen it a few other times and it's common for whales to slow down their activities after 7 p.m.

• The "Weekly Whale Feature" is compiled by Jay Beedle, a longtime Juneau resident who makes his home on Shelter Island. He is a photographer and co-owns Harv and Marv's Outback Alaska which offers whale watching tours during summer months. For more information about his photography contact Gretchen Pence at gretchenpence@islandimagesalaska.com or at 789-0089.

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