Update — 4:15 p.m.
The beached killer whale reported on Prince of Wales Island on Thursday has freed itself, according to federal biologists.
NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Julie Fair says the killer whale was able to refloat with the incoming tide and left the area around 3 p.m.
“Reports from the scene indicate that the whale was a little bit slow at first and meandered around a little bit, and then swam away,” Fair said.
Video on social media showed people standing around the roughly 20-foot long marine mammal as it laid on seaweed-covered rocks with several boats nearby. The orca was reported to be calling out as good Samaritans tried to keep the whale wet.
Fair says biologists are gathering photos and videos of the whale.
“We’re trying to determine if it was a known killer whale. If so, what pod it was from, and to assess its condition and any injuries that might have. Knowing that will just help us further our scientific understanding of killer whales,” Fair said.
Though other killer whales were initially reported in the area, Fair says they swam away before the whale was able to free itself.
Fair says NOAA has “no evidence” the stranding was related to Wednesday’s magnitude 8.2 earthquake that triggered tsunami warnings and advisories along much of Alaska’s coast.
A lone killer whale was reported to have beached itself on Prince of Wales Island Thursday, and federal biologists say they are responding. Video on social media shows people standing around the marine mammal as it lies on seaweed-covered rocks with several boats nearby.
NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Julie Fair says the animal is estimated to be about 20 feet long and is a few feet above the tide mark.
“The high tide is supposed to occur at 5:30 p.m. this late afternoon, so we are hoping that the whale will be able to free itself at that point,” Fair said.
She said a NOAA law enforcement officer is en route to identify and assess the whale’s condition while good Samaritans stand by.
“There is a vessel nearby who reported the stranding, and the captain and crew of that vessel are keeping their distance from the whale. But we did authorize them to use a seawater pump to keep the whale wet and to sort of keep any birds away from it,” Fair said.
Authorities aren’t saying where exactly the killer whale is stranded. It’s a federal offense to come too close or in any way harass a marine mammal.
“We are definitely asking people to please avoid the area and keep your distance. This is a stranded live killer whale. We don’t know which population is from, and we are trying to identify that,” she said. “It is already stressed, and we wouldn’t want it to get stressed any more.”
The stranded mammal is reportedly calling out, and Fair says other orcas have been spotted in the area.
Strandings of marine mammals can be reported to the NOAA Fisheries Alaska hotline at 877-925-7773.