Young humpback whale found dead Tuesday along Turnagain Arm

Update, 1:50 p.m. Tuesday:

A young humpback whale was found dead Tuesday afternoon along Turnagain Arm near Girdwood, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Biologists believe it’s the same whale that was beached in the area Monday, said Julie Speegle, a NOAA spokeswoman.

A necropsy will be performed on the whale Tuesday afternoon, Speegle said.

The whale was found Tuesday near Mile 86 of the Seward Highway. It had also been stranded in that area Monday, eventually freeing itself with the high tide. There were reports Sunday too about a stranded whale.

NOAA biologist Barbara Mahoney said Tuesday there’s “no real good indication about why it kept getting stranded.”

“I think once it got here it kept getting lost in all the channels,” she said.


Speegle said it’s uncommon for humpback whales to be in Upper Cook Inlet, especially Turnagain Arm.

ADN’s Loren Holmes contributed reporting.

Original story:

A young humpback whale that had been stranded on Turnagain Arm near Girdwood returned to the water Tuesday morning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Drivers on the Seward Highway around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday reported they had spotted the whale beached again, said Julie Speegle, a NOAA spokeswoman. But NOAA officials who arrived in the area around Mile 87 after 7 a.m. didn’t see any stranded whale there.

The juvenile whale was estimated to be about 30 feet long and had "no visible, significant injuries,” Speegle said.

The whale drew spectators, scientists and police to Mile 87 of the Seward Highway on Monday.

Mikael Barnes spotted the whale around 12:30 p.m. Monday while he was driving home to Soldotna. He pulled over. A police officer told him the whale was still alive.

“I was looking for the mother,” Barnes said. “The police officer said he hadn’t seen it either.”

Speegle said NOAA first received reports Sunday of a humpback whale stranded in the same area, but the whale reportedly freed itself and swam to deeper water. The agency also received reports that there may have originally been two humpback whales, an adult and a calf, in shallow waters near Mile 86.

“There’s only one humpback present today, and that’s the calf,” she said. It was later determined that whale was a juvenile whale.

Speegle said it’s uncommon for humpback whales to be in Upper Cook Inlet, especially Turnagain Arm.

NOAA Fisheries and Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network partners responded to reports of the stranded whale Monday, Speegle said. Officials with the Girdwood Fire Department and the Whittier Police Department were also on scene.

[The dead whale floating in Cook Inlet has washed ashore at Kincaid Park]

High tide in the area was forecast for around 5 p.m. Monday, and responders had planned to steer the whale toward deeper water with the rising tide, Speegle said. But the young whale managed to free itself.

“The whale freed itself as the tide came in,” Speegle said. “Responders were standing by to encourage it if necessary."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the whale that was stranded and later found dead. It was a juvenile humpback whale, not a calf.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.