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Biologists May Intervene If Nushagak Whales Don't Head Downriver Soon

October 08, 2011|By Michelle Theriault Boots
Jon Sharp

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — If three killer whales that have been swimming up the Nushagak River in Southwest Alaska for weeks fail to turn back for the ocean soon, biologists may have to intervene, a NOAA official said Friday.

Officials with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service are concerned that the whales – who have never before been seen swimming up a fresh-water river in Alaska – are in poor condition due to weeks outside of their natural marine habitat.

“It’s definitely a situation where we are concerned about them,” said Julie Speegle, a NOAA spokesperson. “We don’t know what kind of shape they are in after having been in the river for three weeks."

Biologists believe the whales may have gone upstream in search of salmon. It's not unusual for Dillingham residents to see killer whales in the saltwater areas near the mouth of the Nushagak River, but they've never been seen this far up  before.

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Speegle said NOAA officials were flying over the area today to confirm the exact location of the whales, last reported near Ekwok, some 30 miles upriver from Dillingham.

Meanwhile, the Anchorage Daily News reported that a local pilot spotted the whales miles downstream and close to the saltwater Nushagak Bay, suggesting that they may have already turned around.

Speegle said that as of late Friday afternoon the report had not been confirmed by NOAA.

If an intervention is necessary, Speegle said it could involve local boats and possibly noise-making pipes.

“There’s these pipes you can use to make noise,” Speegle said. “They should cause the whales to go away from the noise and in the direction we want them to go, which is downriver.”

Speegle said anyone in the area who sees the whales should contact NOAA and stay 100 yards away.

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