background image

She Likes To Swim With Others

Hang Nail

Known since 1993, last seen in 2010
Adult, sex unknown

 

Identification

For a long time Hang Nail’s first sighting was recorded for 1996. The analysis of old slides revealed some years later that she  had previously had visited the study area in 1993. Only due to a distinct body mark on her back was it possible to accept the match as Hang Nail.  She did not at first  carry the clearly visible triangular nick at the posterior base of her dorsal fin. Somewhen between 1993 and 1996 she must have acquired this mark of unknown cause. Since then her dorsal fin features have  not changed a bit.

Habitat use

Hang Nail is one of the well-known minke whales, and so far has never been seen in the shallow waters between La Toupie and the buoy Sierra 8 or in the Fjord. She clearly prefers to hunt along the steep slopes of the Laurentian Channel head especially between Pointe à la Carriole and Les Escoumins. Each summer she is one of our most sighted minke whales with a mean of 17.3 (range 3 – 36) day-sightings from 2000 to 2009.

Behaviour

This high sighting frequency suggests that the Estuary is a very important feeding ground for her. Although she has been seen surface feeding on a few occasions, she prefers to hunt her prey at depth reaching up to 100 m. It is still not known what manoeuvres she applies down there, where hardly any light breaks the dark. How does she detect the school of fish? How does she know when it is best to open her mouth?

Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to document her genital area but we believe it’s safe to assume that she is a female just like 99% of the others.

The most striking characteristic of Hang Nail however is her preference in pairing off  with other minke whales. Even before 2002, when more and more pair formations started to occur, she was the one who liked to initiate pairing, although at most times not successfully as the other animal didn’t respond positively. Meanwhile she is also one of our whales regularly forming groups of two or three animals. Although she likes to initiate to pairing she prefers to follow a leader such as Witche’s Hat, Ratatouille or even Funambule.

On occasions it seems that other minke whales don’t like to pair up thus Hang Nail has been seen  with an unmarked animal and then with Rodin but the contact didn’t last. Then Hang Nail finally “convinced” Hibou, at that time a young animal, to swim with her for the next hour and a half during which they completed 11 surfacing cycles with highly coordinated swimming, breathing and diving behaviours.

Special story

I remember back in the late Nineties when I watched the well-known adult minke whale Crab Claw surfacing swimming west. Soon after Hang Nail appeared swimming east passing Crab Claw. On the next surfacing she was suddenly oriented west, visually picking up speed to catch up to Crab Claw who didn’t seem to be in the mood to pair with Hang Nail at all. Her surfacing behaviour became somewhat less focused and erratic. After the dive they both resurfaced swimming independently. I have observed such behaviour on many occasions with Hang Nail clearly interrupting her behaviour in order to follow another whale.