Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – NOAA Fisheries and stranding network partners have responded to two incidents over the past weekend.
On Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, NOAA Fisheries and the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network received a report that a vessel may have struck a whale.
In response, NOAA Fisheries biologists and staff from the Office of Law Enforcement traveled to Favorite Channel and photo documented and identified all humpback whales swimming in the area.
Ten known humpback whales were in the area and no injuries were observed.
On Friday, NOAA received a report of a humpback whale carcass on Hump Island in Favorite Channel via the 24-hour stranding hotline.
NOAA staff coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard and whale watching captains in the area.
They were able to confirm the location of the whale with photos on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 26.
NOAA responded immediately by sending biologists and a veterinarian to Hump Island.
The postmortem examination found injuries consistent with a vessel strike.
NOAA does not yet know if the two incidents are related.
The deceased whale was identified as a humpback calf known by Juneau Flukes and the Juneau community as “Tango,” the 2023 calf of “Sasha.”
Tango was likely born sometime between December and March in Hawaiian waters as Sasha migrates to Hawaii for the winter.
Given that was he a relatively large calf when they arrived in Alaska, Suzie Teerlink, a Marine Mammal Specialist with NOAA, estimated he was born in December.
“He would have been 8 months old at most. Humpback whale calves stay with their moms only for one year. They slowly start to spend more and more time away from mom and we see this starting here in the feeding grounds towards the end of the season,” Teerlink said. “Generally speaking, by the time they show up in the breeding and birthing grounds, they are weaned and have parted ways with mom.”
Calf names generally follow a theme that plays off the mom’s name in the Juneau Flukes catalog.
Sasha is a style of dance and her calves had followed that theme (2020 Macarena and 2023 Tango).
“Sasha is certainly one of Juneau’s favorite and beloved whales,” Teerlink added. “She has a really high site fidelity to Juneau and is easily identifiable and I know that the community was all very excited to see her return with a calf this year.”
Tango is her third known calf.
Sasha is believed to be uninjured based on observations and has been seen foraging near Juneau since the loss of her calf.
She has a clear preference for the waters near South Shelter Island and tends to feed there alone.
The only exception to her solo preference is when she has a calf, which she will keep nearby.
She has survived at least two entanglements that have left her with distinct scarring on her dorsal (back), which makes her easy to spot even before she shows flukes.
“I used to call her the Alaska Whale because when I look at her flukes, I see what looks like an unmistakable A and K on her left fluke blade,” Teerlink shared. “However, the Juneau whale enthusiast community called her Sasha and this was so fitting that Sasha has become her only Juneau Flukes name.”
Mandy Keogh, Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator with NOAA Fisheries, shared how often they find whales struck by vessels.
“We do find injuries consistent with vessel strikes on some carcasses throughout Alaska. One of the challenges we have in Alaska in particular is that we often aren’t able to access or get to a carcass to examine it. A lot of times they will wash ashore on remote beaches or they don’t stay in the area long enough or the decomposition state prevents us from determining what may have contributed to the death,” she explained. “But we do occasionally and we do observe it and we put a lot of effort into documenting that. But there are most of the carcasses that we have in Alaska we’re unable to examine for any cause of death.”
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is continuing its investigation, and it is standard NOAA practice not to comment on the details of ongoing investigations.
Anyone who has information that they think may be helpful to the investigation is encouraged to call the Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.
A live operator is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone in the United States.
Keogh said it’s expected to take some time for the investigation to complete.
Additionally, someone can reach out to the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network 24-hour hotline number at (877) 925-7773 with any report about distressed, entangled, or dead marine mammals.
NOAA wants to thank the numerous organizations and vessels on the water who contacted the stranding hotline to report the humpback whale sighting on Hump Island.
Source : KINYRADIO