A dead humpback whale was spotted floating in the water about 30 miles south of Sitka on September 6. Now researchers are hoping it will wash ashore so they can examine it.
Mandy Keough is a marine mammal stranding coordinator with NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. She says they received word from the Coast Guard that the whale was floating near Whale Bay and fairly decomposed.
“It’s not completely uncommon to have humpback whales stranded or floating in the water,” Keough says of the Sitka area and Southeast. “But we do try to collect as much information around those events, and then try to examine the carcass if we can.”
In late August, NOAA opened an investigation after a humpback whale calf was found dead near Juneau of an apparent vessel strike. Keough says without a post-mortem examination, she can’t speculate the cause of this whale’s death, but initial video footage has given researchers a bit of information.
“It looks to be intact, floating belly up. Sometimes, from photos and videos, we can tell whether or not it’s killer whale predation, they seem to target certain areas of the whale, like the tongue in the jaw, that part looked intact, but I couldn’t see the full animal,” Keough says.
She says right now the floating whale is inaccessible to researchers, but local whale biologist Dr. Lauren Wild is on the case, and if the whale washes up on shore in an accessible area, she’ll perform a necropsy. Keough hopes that if any boaters see the whale or any stranded marine mammals, they’ll call NOAA’s 24 hour hotline, 877-925-7773.
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and may be updated.