Three killer whales loitering in fresh water 30 miles up river near Dillingham
Juneau, AK — Marine mammal scientists from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service said today they have received numerous reports of three killer whales that are lingering in the Nushagak River.
The whales were last reported below the split of East and West channel of the Nushagak, downriver from Ekwok, AK, and about 30 miles upriver. The killer whales have been lingering in the river for about three weeks, and are likely experiencing fresh-water stress from being outside of their normal habitat.
Local residents in the Dillingham vicinity report frequent sightings of killer whales in the tidal waters of the Nushagak River every fall, or every other fall. NOAA Biologist Barbara Mahoney said killer whales have not been documented above tidal influence in the Nushagak River. This is the first known report of killer whales this far up the Nushagak River; and the first report in Alaska where killer whales have traveled and stayed for a prolonged period of time in a fresh water river.
NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Bristol Bay Native Association are monitoring the situation. NOAA Fisheries is consulting with experts to determine if the whales need intervention as the river level continues to drop or in advance of the river freezing, which could happen late in October.
Although the whales are in an area where they are unlikely to encounter humans, officials are asking all members of the public who happen to spot the marine mammals to try to stay at least 100 yards away for their own safety, and to prevent further stress to the killer whales.
It is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to harass marine mammals such as whales, which includes any action that would cause a behavior change in the animals.
To report a marine mammal in distress or stranded, call NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-925-7773.
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