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The Summer of Scylla

You know how every once in awhile, you meet someone and you just click? You become friends immediately and it seems like you have known them your entire life? Every once in awhile, this happens with a whale as well! I swear I’m not crazy, let me explain.

From the year I did my internship until now, I’ve met a LOT of different humpback whales. Because humpbacks learn where to find food from their moms, we often see the same individuals return to our area year after year. This allows us to get to know them and when you see a familiar tail, its like seeing an old friend. As you get to know them, you start to learn which whales are curious, which are good at showing you their tails and which are terrible at it, what their preferred feeding methods are, and even who is social and who swims to their own beat. You can’t help but chose favorites and I was ecstatic that this summer, one of my favorites stuck around for almost two months! She is a superstar mom and she had her newest calf with her too.

Scylla's fluke


I would love to introduce you to Scylla!


I first met Scylla in the very first month of my internship back in 2012. During my first month, there was a lull in sightings and we had just two mom and calf pairs who stuck around. Scylla was one of these moms and we really bonded in that first month as I saw her do what she did best. As I saw her every day, I felt the click and knew Scylla would be one of my all-time favorites.

intern at work WDC

Why do I love Scylla so much??

Scylla close approach 2


I could go on forever, but first off..

We have been studying her during her entire life!

Scylla was born in 1981 to her mom named Istar. Her mom was very well known and Scylla was her third of eleven known calves.

She is an over-achiever.

Scylla is didn’t waste any time in finding her true destiny – becoming a mom! Most humpbacks here have their first calf when they are 8-12 years old, however Scylla gave birth for the first time when she was just 6 years old. This could have just been a fluke (pun intended) but she proved that wasn’t the case when she had her second calf just two years later in 1989.

Scylla lobtailing
Scylla open mouth feeding




Scylla is one of the largest humpbacks that we see here. She is among the group of our biggest females and her calf this year is already larger than some adult whales.


She is a *superstar* mom.

Scylla has been having babies at an extraordinary rate! To fully understand how incredible this is, let me first explain. Humpback whales are pregnant for about a year and then care for that calf for 10-12 months. This means that the fastest rate for most is having a calf every other year. Having a baby takes a huge toll on the moms. The demands of pregnancy are extreme, as she is growing a 10-15 foot long, 2,000 pound newborn. Once she gives birth in the warm waters of the Caribbean, she now has the big job of feeding her calf. They immediately start drinking up to 80 gallons of mom’s milk each day for the first six months of their lives. This milk has a high fat content which helps the calf grow big as fast as possible so mom and baby can soon make their migration to the feeding grounds so mom can get a bite to eat.

This all means that for a whale to have calves in back to back years is almost unheard of. This would mean that after being pregnant for a year, the following years, she is pregnant AND nursing at the same time. Only the superstar females have done this and Scylla and her mom Istar are both in this category. When she was just 17 years old, Scylla had calves in both 1997 and 1998. We were incredibly impressed, but Scylla wasn’t done just yet. She took it a little slower by having her next calf in 2000, but then shocked us when she had another calf in 2001! She had 4 calves in just 5 years, elevating her to *superstar* status. She continues to raise whales who return to Stellwagen Bank each year and we are excited to get to know her 14th calf this year.

Scylla and 19 calf
Scylla's calf breaching
Scylla breaching

She has never let me down.

Scylla is rock solid. She has popped up on days where I needed it most. For example, last year I had to fill in as the naturalist on our all-day expedition trips. I was nervous to talk with this group of really dedicated ocean lovers and I felt the pressure to show them how awesome whales are. Lucky for me, my girl Scylla was there to help me out! She showed up early in the trip and I immediately felt comfortable talking about her since I love her so much. She was also in a super convenient location so I got my job done early and could enjoy the rest of the trip!

Thanks for all the memories Scylla! I can’t wait to make so many more with you!

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Kenneth Nuti on 09/18/2019 at 2:36 pm

    Michelle, thank you for this nice story.


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