Kodiak boaters warned to beware of sleeping whales

Brianna Gibbs

KODIAK -- A lot of humpback whales are spending their days near Kodiak this summer. That's good news for whale watchers, but local marine mammal specialist Kate Wynne reminds them to be careful.

"There are a lot of moms with calves out there ... (and) they're very unpredictable in their behavior, especially the calves that are just learning to breach. And so you don't want to get too close to them.

"We actually had one encounter with an anchored boat that a whale came up under, there's no way to avoid that, but just know that that could happen with these unpredictable animals."

Wynne said whales have also been sleeping close to town, which means boaters need to be even more aware of their surroundings.

"They're sleeping close to the channel coming into town. They look kind of like logs. They don't wake up very easily, and people could accidentally run into them.

"... People who actually think they're either dead and have motored over to see what's wrong with them and then had them take a breath. Or else people going over to try and get as close as they can to the animals while they're asleep. ...

"People should know there's a 100-yard minimum distance requirement on these whales so you don't disturb them. The point is if they're sleeping, you leave them asleep."

In general, Wynne said, humpbacks are doing well and the population is increasing about 5 percent a year. She said the near-shore waters are critical habitat for moms with calves, which would explain the large number of sightings.

"So what you'll see are not the huge feeding groups that you see sometimes offshore or up by the Shumagin (Islands), Barren Islands, but just pairs of moms and calves and they cruise along the shore and they're probably eating sand lance, needlefish, people call them. ... It just might be really good habitat and prey source this year. It's not that those whales have never been there."

Recently the humpback whales' endangered species listing came under review. Wynne said the whales should remain protected but doesn't think they are in danger of extinction.

"They wouldn't be taken off the list entirely, they would probably be down-listed to threatened," she said.