A marine mammal survey crew flying over the Beaufort Sea last month spotted surprise visitors – 13 killer whales.
Orcas have been seen before in the Arctic Ocean but are considered unusual that far north.
Their presence may be another indication of changes associated with climate warming but scientists say it’s too soon to draw conclusions.
Research biologist Paul Wade of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory says the orcas may have followed prey – gray whales – to northern waters.
The survey crew spotted the killer whales Aug. 20 just 6.2 miles northeast of Barrow, Alaska.
A second survey crew on board a research vessel spotted 25 to 30 orcas five days later northwest of Barrow in the Chukchi Sea.