Investigators complete inquiry into whale death

Additional speed limits set for boats in Glacier Bay Nat'l Park

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2001

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve has completed its investigation into what caused the death of a humpback whale last month, but officials won't disclose any details.

The body of an adult female humpback was found floating July 16 in Icy Strait near Ancon Rock. A whale forensic specialist from California determined the cause of death was a massive blow to the head that could have been inflicted only by a large vessel.

"We will turn in our report this week or next. We have looked into all our leads," said park Superintendent Tomie Lee on Thursday afternoon.

Park personnel interviewed captains and crews of large ships that toured the area a week or so before July 16. Officials estimated the whale died in that period. They also solicited comments and observations from passengers.

The reports are being turned over to the U.S. Attorney's office in Anchorage, Lee said, to determine if there has been a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

"We have been in contact with the National Park Service, but we are not permitted to discuss aspects of any investigation," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki said this morning. "The matter is proceeding. There is no way to anticipate how long it would take."

Lee also said that, as of Thursday, a second area of Glacier Bay would be given a 10-knot per hour speed limit to protect a concentration of humpbacks.

"Our biologists told me there were 13 to 15 whales in the lower bay," she said.

As of Saturday, Lee set a 10-knot maximum speed for vessels traveling between Rush Point, about 6 miles north of the entrance to the bay, through lower Whidbey Passage, about another 10 miles north.

The speed restrictions announced Thursday go into effect today and are in addition to the ones implemented Saturday.

The boundaries of the Lower Bay whale waters extend from the mouth of Glacier Bay to a line drawn between the northern tip of Strawberry Island and the northern tip of Lars Island.

Officials said boaters should note that whales often swim across the channel as they move between feeding sites in the Lower Bay and lower Whidbey Passage.

Speed restrictions in whale waters are intended to minimize the disturbance of feeding humpbacks by reducing underwater sound levels and lowering the risk of whale-vessel collisions.

Officials advise boaters to verify whale waters designations before entering Glacier Bay by telephoning (907) 697-2627 or by contacting KWM20 Bartlett Cove on marine radio.

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Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneau-empire.com.



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