Gray whale washed up on Kodiak beach could hold clues for researchers
The first gray whale necropsy in nearly three years in Alaska was performed on a Kodiak beach on Monday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine mammal stranding hotline received a call on Sunday afternoon about a gray whale carcass.
It was spotted by a passerby near Surfer’s beach, at the southern end of the Kodiak road system.
The NOAA office then called Matt Van Daele, the natural resources director for the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak. Van Daele rallied his team and was quickly on site. They anchored the whale and returned the next day.
“We were able to complete the first full necropsy of a gray whale in the entire state of Alaska since 2019,” Van Daele said.
That whale also washed up on Surfer’s Beach in Kodiak. Dozens of gray whales are known to have died unexpectedly since then, according to Van Daele.
While strandings are not unusual in the summer months, he says necropsies are rare. In order to do a necropsy, the carcass must be fresh, accessible, and there must be nearby volunteers to assist.
Van Daele says several past gray whale necropsies have shown that whales starved. According to him, the whale that washed ashore in Kodiak also showed signs of starvation.
“This whale was extraordinarily emaciated. It was disturbingly so you could see its shoulder blades clearly, you could see his backbone clearly, you could see the lump where all of its ribs were and then just going away to nothing towards the tail,” Van Daele said.
Van Daele says Monday’s necropsy was a top priority for biologists this year – he says every necropsy brings scientists closer to understanding gray whale strandings.
Van Daele says that this necropsy would have been impossible without the initial call to the stranding hotline. The number for the NOAA stranding hotline is 877-925-7773.
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