The story of Scarlet actually goes back to 1997 where she was first documented by Cascadia Research Collective during "The Splash Project" where a biopsy was taken and determined this humpback whale to be a female and given the name "CRC-11227." At this time, it was learned that she was a calf of CRC-10646 who has been documented off the coast of Santa Barbara, Oregon, and her most recent documented sighting off the coast of San Francisco in 2013.
My story of Scarlet begins when with her while aboard Newport Coastal Adventure. Captain Taylor Thorne spotted this whale on the first trip of the day just after 9am and quickly noticed this whale was acting strangely and saw a line of rope trailing behind, while all other whale watching boats were looking at another humpback whale that kept breaching, we tracked this whale and notified rescue crews to try and get help. It was the first trip of the day and Captain Ryan was able to offset his next trips after calling soon-to be passengers and asking if that was ok, this worked out great so that way we could keep one boat tracking this entangled whale until a rescue team could be on scene. Since it is a paying customer business, of course we had to ask them if they minded, the cutomers were actually happy to be a part of getting this animal some help while also enjoying the presence of the majestic creature. Thanks to the help of Alisa Schulman-Janiger who got the word out to all the right people to organize this rescue attempt but unfortunately the weather changed and made it impossible for a rescue along with the fact that Scarlet was extremely unpredictable likely due to the entanglement.
On this day, Slater Moore was able to document her with some amazing photos while aboard a Davey's Locker Whale Watching vessel called "Newport Legacy." During that encounter, he was able to see that she was still entangled but seemed to be shaking off some of the entanglement herself. Passengers were very thrilled to see a humpback whale but also very concerned for her well being
This was an extremely important encounter since she finally showed her fluke and good thing Slater was on deck to get the photos which enabled Happy Whale to get a positive ID on this whale, matching the dorsal fin with the previous sighting and the fluke with all previous sightings dating back to "The Splash Project" in 1997. From now on, we would all know the story of this whale.
It was around this time that Scarlet was given the name Scarlet by Alisa Schulman-Janiger and Dale Frink due to her scars that she now bares from her entanglement and the fact that we know she is a female due to Cascadia Research Collective and Happy Whale.
Captain Dave's Dolphin Safari out of Dana Point got some great underwater footage of Scarlet which showed that all of her previous entanglement was completely gone and she seemed to be doing well. She was even so friendly to come up right beside the boat several times.
Captain Marie Clark said: "She was just a great whale, people loved to see that whale. She was huge and friendly."
Photographer and crew member Mark Tyson said: "My association with Scarlett started with controversy. When I first photographed her I named her Rusty. Davey's Locker Whale Watching said they named her Red but Happy Whale named her Scarlet. The feud was dismissed by me by her personality. Scarlet was the friendliest humpback I'd ever met. She'd dive down for food and come up right next to the boat often swimming under or around the boat turned on her side checking everyone out. When a new boat came to watch she had to investigate it too. Frankly Scarlett, I do give a ****. Though you are gone you live on in my heart and the hearts of many who enjoyed your friendship. "
On this same day, Rich German was out on one of his routine stand up paddlboard sessions off the coast of Laguna Beach. It's not uncommon for Rich to encounter several dolphin species as well as varying species of baleen whales but on this day, Rich was graced by a special encounter with Scarlet. Without an engine aboard the paddleboard, the whale could easily disappear out of sight at anytime but Scarlet seemed curious and did not feel threatened in any way and even popped up right next to Rich making for an amazingly enjoyable encounter.
Naturalist Jessia Roame had her first encounter with Scarlet while aboard a whale watching vessel from Davey's Locker Whale Watching. Jessica knows the history of Scarlet and knew how great it was to see Scarlet freed from all the rope.
Jessica Roame says:
I’m fortunate enough to be a Naturalist onboard the boats at Davey’s Locker Whale Watching, so I had heard all of the reports about Scarlet since Coastal Adventure found her entangled in early August. Since her first sighting, I had been on the lookout during my whale watching trips to try and catch a glimpse of her so we could continue monitoring her disentanglement. On this day, it was very easy to spot her from a distance, with all the whale lice that covered her body. She was a great whale, and frequently liked to come close to the boat so passengers could get a good look at her. I took great pride in sharing Scarlet’s success story, from then on, showing of photos of her progress to interested whale watching guests (thanks for all the great photo’s Mark)! I had never seen a whale covered in so much lice, and although I was happy she was disentangled, I knew it would be a long recovery ahead. Throughout the fall I had a few more encounters with her. Seeing Scarlet, and hearing of other sightings of her throughout Orange County were always special since I knew her backstory. In April, I was thrilled to hear the exciting news that she had returned again this year to feed in the LA harbor. But just a few days later, that excitement turned to dread as a report of a dead Humpback whale came across my desk…could it be Scarlet? With tears welling up, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see if this was indeed Scarlet. If not for the communication with Mark Girardeau, our Davey’s Locker Captains, Naturalists and photographers who kept me in the loop in real time what was going on, I wouldn’t have been able to head out to finally see her. It was hard to keep composure upon locating her body, but it was also extremely fascinating to see her enormous size up close as it bloated out of the water. We were so focused on IDing her before the Newport Beach Life Guard boat towed her away, it finally hit me that she was gone as we drove away from her lifeless body. It still hurts to think about the loss of this beautiful whale, but her legacy will live on through our memory, and most importantly through the story’s we share with the public. It brings new meaning to Newton’s law: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Everything we do on this planet is connected to the sea in some way, and although we cannot confirm what caused her demise, one can only suspect that humans had something to do with her early death. She will be sorely missed.
Jackie Olvera had some great encounters with Scarlet and even helped document her progress through her tough times.
I became emotionally attached to Scarlet since she was first documented by Newport Coastal Adventure and reported with an entanglement. At the time I was participating in the Marine Mammal Photo-ID internship with the Aquarium of the Pacific and spent my entire summer photographing her & documenting her progress. After my internship I remained as a volunteer and on this particular day (October 13, 2016), a previous summer intern in my group, Lindsey McVay and myself joined the new Photo-ID intern for the Fall, Alexis Matus aboard Harbor Breeze Cruises, whom we partner with the Aquarium to do our research.
I had seen Scarlet the previous two days in a feeding frenzy with her buddy (another Humpback) and the night before. On this day, I believe this was the second time she was reported breaching since she was documented with the entanglement and we were overjoyed to see her progress.
I was so excited to hear she returned in Long Beach Harbor before she passed and was looking forward to spending more adventures on the water with her but soon we realized we would never see her again. I do however feel blessed to have spent many days over the summer and into the fall hanging out with my beloved Scarlet, we will miss her dearly.
The following photos:
Scarlet breaching by Lindsey McVay
Group photo of Albert Perez, Lindsey McVay, Alexis, Matus, Tim Hammond, and Jackie Olvera who declared themselves #TeamScarlet
Sunset photo by Jackie Olvera shows Scarlet and the serenity of the oceans beautiful sunset on 10/11/16 while aboard Harbor Breeze Cruises
A humpback whale showed up in Los Angeles Harbor which was very odd, as that happened, Captain Erik Combs of Harbor Breeze Cruises happened to be whale watching and saw this whale about 1 mile outside the break wall and watched as it entered the harbor which is a dangerous place for a whale with all the commercial ship traffic. Captain Erik was able to get photos of the humpback whale and from those, a dorsal fin match was confirmed by Happy Whale to be that of Scarlet who has a very unique dorsal fin that appears to be flat on top. You can also see video from a KCAL 9 news chopper.
"She gave us a success story, as far as the entanglement goes, which we all worked together to write with our cameras and she connected passengers, crew members, and whale watching companies together up and down the coast" - says Captain Erik Combs.
Erik has also viewed Scarlet other times when she was recovering from her entanglement and covered in whale lice which gave her a red hue. Below are photos he took of her during her recovery and inside the harbor.
This will be the last time anyone would see her alive
Evan Salvay, a local fisherman was headed back to Newport Harbor after a day of fishing when he noticed something large on the ocean that didn't appear to be a boat, as he got closer he realized it was a whale, he took some photos and sent them to Captain Ryan Lawler of Newport Coastal Adventure who dispatched a boat with Captain Rich, naturalist Jessica Roame, and myself to try to identify this whale who Ryan believed to possibly be Scarlet based on the photos sent by Evan. As soon as we got out of the harbor, we could see the whale carcass that was 2 miles off Newport Pier. Once on scene, we were able to get aerial images with a drone that allowed us to see the bottom side of the fluke (tail) which is the equivalent of a human fingerprint, with that photos as well as a photo of the right underside of the pectoral fin, Jessica Roame was able to compare them to photos on Happywhale.com which she was able to confirm that this was Scarlet. At that time it was apparent that this was not just another deceased humpback whale, this was a whale that had gained lots of fame over the last several months after she was tangled in rope and was able to free herself, it seemed as if this whale had developed a following of people that were cheering for her to get better. Now with this sad news, it just let everyone down. Unfortunately she was destined to wash ashore in the Newport Beach area which is heavily populated which meant that authorities would not let her wash ashore due to the safety hard of drawing sharks in as well as a health issue. Newport Beach Lifeguards responded and towed Scarlet out to the 14 mile bank in hopes the current would take her elsewhere. The problem is that without the whale washing ashore, a necropsy could not be performed and a cause of death could not be determined.
The end of Scarlet's story? Well... With Scarlet being deceased, it seems like a good time to end this very sad story of a whale that was loved by many of us in Southern California and even people around the world who spent time with her while visiting and whale watching or even seeing her story on the news or social media. Maybe we can all use this story to benefit the future of cetaceans by helping to take care of our ocean that we are so fortunate to share with these beautiful creatures.
These photos enabled us to identify this deceased whale as Scarlet thanks to the drone allowing us to get a shot of the submerged fluke as well as the right pectoral fin which matched to Happy Whale's record. What was also great is that this info was able to be given to the media about this whales life and help educate people on what's going on out here, no matter what, this whale would end up on the news with several other boaters and whale watchers taking photos, so it was very important to get this information out there quickly to tell the truth about her story. This was not just another whale, this was Scarlet's story.
As we all know how things go in the ocean, with death comes life. As sad as it may be to see Scarlet in this way, she will go on to feed many other marine animals. Keith Poe who works with satellite tagging sharks for research was able to tag a great white shark that was feeding on Scarlet out near the 14 mile bank which is where she was towed.
It would have been great if she washed ashore so that a necropsy could be performed to help determine what the cause of death was. Did she get struck by a ship? Did she swallow some rope from her entanglement? Was it from pollution? We can all speculate but unfortunately we won't know. Let this be a lesson to all of us humans about why we need to take care of our oceans.
Alisa Schulman-Janiger for always being involved anytime something like this happens as well as educating so many of us about these cetaceans especially killer whale identification.
Happy Whale for documenting and helping keep track of her location and health
Everyone who contributed to this article with their amazing photos and stories which really shows how much Scarlet was loved.
Photo by Jackie Olvera who this amazing photo of Scarlet swimming into the sunset.
Let's use this as education for the future of whales and protecting their environment which we all enjoy.
If you have photos and a story you'd like to share, please email me at email@example.com