Updated: 11 September 2012
Large groups of orcas sighted in Arctic Ocean off Alaska
Source: Dan Jling, Associated Press
Scientists counting marine mammals off Alaska's Arctic Ocean coast spotted two large groups of killer whales last month, but orca experts are not ready to say the species has increased its numbers in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
On Aug. 20 an aerial survey crew spotted 13 killer whales about 6 miles northeast of Barrow, America's northernmost community. The flight was part of a bowhead whale survey sponsored by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other federal agencies.
Five days later, crew members aboard the Westward Wind, a vessel in the Chukchi Sea Environmental Studies Program, which is conducting research on behalf of oil companies, spotted 25 to 30 orcas near Hanna Shoal, a shallow-water area northwest of Barrow.
The presence of killer whales in Arctic waters is unusual but not unprecedented. Research biologist Paul Wade of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory said he has no indication from published reports or anecdotal evidence that more orcas are spending time north of the Bering Strait. Russian scientists have reported them on their side of the Chukchi Sea, attacking gray whale calves. That could be why the surveys are seeing them in Alaska, he said.
"If there are more killer whales up in the Arctic, it's because they're following prey," he said.
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