Wildlife

Orca stranded on Southeast Alaska beach swims away with high tide

A live, 20-foot long killer whale stranded on a rocky Southeast Alaska beach refloated back to sea Thursday afternoon, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said.

A vessel on the east side of Prince of Wales Island called in the stuck marine mammal to the U.S. Coast Guard Thursday morning, said Julie Speegle, a NOAA spokeswoman. NOAA authorized the crew to pump seawater on the animal keep it wet and to keep birds away, according to Speegle.

Twitter user Tara Neilson shared a photo of the whale while it was stranded. It appeared to be lodged in seaweed-slicked rocks. At the time, people were pouring buckets of water on it to keep it wet.

By the early afternoon, a NOAA law enforcement officer was on the beach, and the agency was asking people to stay away.

“This animal is in a situation where it is exceedingly stressed,” Speegle said. “The more humans nearby, the more it will be stressed.”

Killer whales, even stranded, can be dangerous, she said.

[A killer whale was headed toward a sea otter in Kachemak Bay. Then the otter hopped on a boat — and stayed there.]

The killer whales seemed to be injured, though it’s not clear how seriously. Speegle said it had been vocalizing, making the haunting clicks and whistles and pulsing calls the animals are known for. More killer whales were reported in the area, offshore.

The tide came in enough to refloat the whale and it swam away around 3 p.m., Speegle said.

“Our officer and troopers report the whale was a bit slow at first, and meandered around a little before swimming away,” she said.

Live strandings are unusual, but they do happen. Two killer whales survived being stranded in Turnagain Arm in the 1990s, according to NOAA.

There’s no evidence the magnitude 8.2 earthquake in the Alaska Peninsula area Wednesday night in any way contributed to the stranding, she said.

Bay Cetology, a group of British Columbia-based marine biologists, identified the stranded whale as “T146D,” a 13-year-old that is part of a transient population of animals last seen off the Haida Gwaii archipelago on July 3.

NOAA said it hadn’t confirmed which pod the whale belongs to or its age.

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