Observation by Jaclyn Christensen:
A 14 foot orca was observed to be washed up on the beach north of Port Heiden about 8 miles at Hook Lagoon. Two years ago another orca was observed near second cape about 6 miles north of Port Heiden. Sightings of these whales are a bit rare compared to many other whale carcass sightings and we just wanted to share with you this observation. I did get a hold of Barbara Mahoney at NOAA/NMFS and we discussed the orca and we even sent out observers to get skin samples of two orca carcasses because on their way up they noticed a die off not far from the one noted here at LEO.
Jaclyn wrote on 3/30/21: We are also sending in teeth for aging but it’s still on the jaw we will work on cutting it. It’s still pretty fleshy. My estimated distance to hook lagoon needs to be verified it might be much further out than I think about 10-20 miles north of Port Heiden. Orca teeth were extracted by Morgan Fox and John Christensen on March 28, 2021.
Barbara Mahoney with NOAA Fisheries writes:
There were two killer whales found near Port Heiden. One killer whale was found on 10 March, and a second was found on 23 March. I have pictures from both whales, and they are different decompositions.
Comment from LEO Editors
The Orca, aka killer whale (Orcinus orca), is the largest member of the dolphin family and travel in social groups called “pods”. Killer whale pods are matrilineal, with an old female and her many offspring of both sexes. They are very vocal, using sophisticated calls to communicate, and hunt using echolocation. Orcas are a global species and can be found in all oceans. Killer whales specialize in different hunting techniques. “Resident” killer whales (a population category that annually return to predictable locations) feed on fish, primarily salmon, and their pods are more than 10 animals and can be as many as 50 animals. The transient killer whales have large home ranges and eat marine mammals. The offshore killer whales have the largest home ranges, mostly found offshore. Alaskan waters are home to five “stocks” of killer whales: Eastern North Pacific Alaska Resident stock (2,347 whales), Eastern North Pacific Northern Resident stock (302 whales), Eastern North Pacific Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, and Bering Sea Transient stock (587 whales), West Coast Transient stock (349 whales), and the depleted AT1 Transient stock (7 whales). All marine mammals, including killer whales, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended.
Threats to killer whales include habitat loss and food shortages, likely from overfishing. Insufficient prey is linked to decreased reproductive rates and increased mortality rates. Other threats include water pollution and contaminants, oil spills, climate change, and disturbances from vessels and sound. Alaskan killer whale populations can now migrate through the Bering Strait in the spring with the retreating ice, departing the northern areas in the fall before the ice develops. Killer whales are regularly sighted around the Aleutian Islands and Bristol Bay, Southcentral Alaska (Resurrection Bay, Prince William Sound), and Southeast Alaska, with the largest frequency in Juneau and Ketchikan. Chyna Williams
If you see a sick or dead marine mammal, please report it immediately to the appropriate contact below:
NOAA Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network 24-hour Hotline: 877-925-7773
Alaska SeaLife Center Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline: 888-774-7325
North Slope Borough: North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife Management: 907-852-0350
Bering Strait Region: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program: 855-443-2397/907-434-1149
Bering Strait Region: Kawerak, Inc. Subsistence Program: 907-443-4265