Biologists investigate death of humpback in Glacier Bay

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Researchers are studying the carcass of a humpback whale discovered floating in Icy Strait near Ancon Rock off Point Gustavus, 55 miles northwest of Juneau.

"As far as we know this is the first humpback that has died in Glacier Bay, so it's very important to know what it died of," said Chuck Young, chief ranger for Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. "We're talking with a number of experts around the country as to how to determine the cause of death, and may bring someone here to do further necropsy."

The 45-foot adult female was found Monday by Janet Doherty, a whale researcher with the park. Doherty took samples of blubber and blood and removed one of the whale's eyes, said Kaja Brix, wildlife biologist with the national Marine Fisheries Service at Auke Bay.

"There's a standard protocol for samples of marine mammal strandings," said Young. The samples will be sent to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.

The whale was bloated with gas from decomposition and could have been dead anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, Young said. "It was so expanded, it looked like a rubber blimp."

The average adult female humpback of 49 feet weighs about 35 tons. The whale will be left to the elements, and decomposition might "take quite a while," depending on the weather and scavenging by bears and birds, Brix said.

She reminded residents that the humpback is an endangered species, "so it is illegal for anyone to remove parts from the animal."

The area where the whale was found is frequented by humpbacks that feed at Point Adolphus across the strait from Gustavus, Brix added, but she did not know if this whale was associated with that group.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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