Dead humpback washes up on Admiralty Island, necropsy planned

Dan Kirkwood of Pack Creek Bear Tours observes a humpback whale carcass on May 31, 2018, that washed up on Admiralty Island. The tides may have carried the dead whale back and forth between Douglas and Admiralty islands over several days.

Dan Kirkwood of Pack Creek Bear Tours observes a humpback whale carcass on Thursday that washed up on Admiralty Island. (Photo by Riley Woodford/Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

A dead humpback whale washed up on Admiralty Island and federal officials are unsure of its cause of death.

The whale beached across from the back side of Douglas Island.

Julie Speegle, spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the carcass beached on Point Young, which juts out from Admiralty Island into Stephens Passage. The whale came to rest after beaching in other places, the Juneau Empire reported.

“It’s on the beach pretty high up and we don’t anticipate it will refloat, so at this point it’s not a hazard to navigation,” Speegle said.

NOAA has not determined the animal’s age or sex by photos provided to them. NOAA has not received new reports of a vessel striking a whale, Speegle said.

NOAA received initial reports of a dead humpback in the area Sunday. On Thursday, a pilot told the Alaska Department of Fish and Game he spotted the whale beached on Douglas Island, according to ADFG wildlife scientist Lori Polasek. High tides could have shifted the carcass several times, Polasek said.

Speegle urged people to stay away because a dead whale on a beach is a “bear attractant.” It’s also a federal crime to remove parts of a dead marine mammal without permission, she said.

NOAA on Saturday plans to send a team to do a necropsy, Speegle said. Scientists will study the whale and take tissue samples.

The information will go into the Marine Mammal Stranding Network database, Speegle said, a collaborative effort that helps researchers identify patterns of marine mammal deaths and spot trends.

“For instance, if we found that if humpback whales were emaciated, then we may think there was something wrong with them not getting enough food,” Speegle said.

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