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Scientists identify "offshore" killer whale north of Petersburg


NOAA Fisheries/John Moran Taken under permit.

NOAA Fisheries marine mammal expert Sadie Wright examines the carcass of a killer whale discovered near Petersburg.

A team of scientists is analyzing samples from a dead orca whale to determine the cause of death after a moose hunter reported the freshly dead animal beached near Portage Bay on Kupreanof Island last week.

Scientists were able to reach the orca Monday between storms where they found evidence of infection in its jaw, but no external injuries, said NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Julie Speegle. The scientists aren't certain the infection was a cause in the whale's death.

NOAA Fisheries/John Moran Taken under permit.

The female killer whale has been identified as an offshore killer whale, which often have worn teeth. This one's teeth were worn to the gum line.

"The teeth were flattened to the gum line indicating it was either a very old animal, or an offshore whale," Speegle said in a press release. "Experts from the killer whale research community identified the animal as 0059, a female offshore first identified in the early 1990s, with documented sightings from California to the Bering Sea."

The body of the 17.4 foot female orca is estimated to be around 40 years old-10 years younger than a female killer whale's expected life span which averages 50 years but can reach to 100.

Because the animal was freshly dead, the group of scientists from NOAA, the University of Washington, the Vancouver Aquarium and the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center, were able to collect quality samples.

Scientists are still in the process of determining the cause of death.

"We definitely encourage people, if they see a dead or stranded animal, to immediately report it," Speegle said. "That was definitely a key for getting out there and getting good quality samples."

Reports can be made to the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-925-7773.


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