One of Juneau’s most-sighted whales has a new calf, and it’s a bit too bold

Flame, whose tail is pictured above, has been one of Juneau’s most sighted frequently spotted humpback whales in recent years. Flame is the mother of the calf that has been getting too close to boats. (Brianna Pettie)

A humpback calf appears to be okay after an encounter with a tour boat in near Juneau that left some of the whale’s skin on the boat’s hull. 

“The whale certainly felt that contact,” said Suzie Teerlink of NOAA’s Whale Sense program. “Probably didn’t feel good.”

The calf’s name is Cinder. Its mother is Flame, an often-seen Juneau regular that Teerlink describes as a “super mother.” Flame has brought four calves back to Juneau in four years, when a calf every two or three years would be typical.

But Teerlink says this latest calf, which is about six months old and maybe 18-20 feet long, is a little too interested in people.

“We’ve been getting reports about it being very curious and coming up to boats,” she said. “Weaving underneath the boat, blowing bubbles, that kind of a thing.”

Teerlink says video of the Aug. 11 incident showed the calf rolling against the boat, which was shut down at the time. Since then, NOAA researchers have seen Cinder out and about and acting normally. 

But Teerlink is concerned about the consequences of the behavior — to the calf and to anyone who encounters it.

“We really want to emphasize that these are huge animals,” she said. “A small interaction could be really harmful to anyone involved.”

Teerlink says this kind of curiosity isn’t that rare in whale calves, but encountering curious whales calls for more caution — and for giving them as much space as possible.

“I don’t want people rushing out there trying to have that experience,” she said.

Teerlink says it’s best to stay 100 yards away from whales and to idle if a whale comes closer. And with curious whales like Cinder, it might be a good idea to start backing away safely.

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