A dead Baleen Whale is seen washed ashore upstream of the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge on the south bank of the Kenai River in Kenai on Sunday about 5 miles from the river mouth.
Photo by Jospeh Robertia
A 23-foot-long dead whale made an unexpected appearance in the Kenai River on Sunday afternoon then disappeared as quickly as it showed up.
The baleen whale was spotted by a passing motorist at approximately 2 p.m. With the tide just starting to come in, the blue-gray animal rested in silty mud among scattered icebergs approximately 100 yards upstream and in plain sight of the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge in Kenai. The location is approximately five miles from the mouth of the river.
Representatives from the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward were scrambling Sunday afternoon to dispatch a team to Kenai to secure the whale for identification, but were unable to reach it before the tide came in. An Alaska State Trooper who arrived at the scene around 4 p.m. said he could see no sign of the animal.
Carrie Goertz, associate veterinarian with the center, said she's hoping the whale can still be found and scientists can study it.
"I'm working now on making a lot of phone calls," Goertz said Sunday.
When marine life is found washed up on shore on the Kenai Peninsula, the SeaLife center normally dispatches a private contractor to secure the animal. Goertz said the contractor, Homer-based Otter Works, arrived in Kenai on Sunday afternoon and had begun searching for the creature.
"We've got someone there right now looking for it," she said.
Otter Works owners L.A. Holmes and Cy St-Amand arrived in Kenai just as the tide had reached its highest point at around 6:30 p.m. Otter Works is part of a volunteer network of businesses and individuals that locate stranded or beached marine life.
"Mostly we respond to otters or seals in the Homer area," Holmes said.
A whale weighing thousands of pounds is a little different, but St-Amand said Sunday night he was hopeful the whale could be secured during the night or Monday morning for further study.
"We brought a bunch of gear for securing it," he said. "We'll see if we luck out."
If they can find the whale, they said they'll simply try and keep it from moving any further.
"We can't carry this back to the car," Holmes joked.
If the whale can be located and secured, Goertz said a team of scientists will examine it to try and determine how it died and why it ended up dead on the side of the river.
"We're ready to go out in the morning," Goertz said.
The whale appeared to have died recently, as there was no odor coming from its flesh, nor was there any evidence that it had begun to decay. It measured about 23 feet, 6 inches long with a tail that was 9 feet, 6 inches wide. It had 8-foot-long white flippers and a small dorsal fin.
Dead beluga whales have been known to wash up on Kenai beaches, but the sighting of this larger whale is unusual for the area especially considering how far upstream the whale was. Based on comparisons with pictures, Goertz said it's likely the whale is a juvenile humpback whale, although other baleen whales including blue, fin, sei and minke whales also are known to inhabit Cook Inlet waters.
Clarion reporter Joseph Robertia contributed to this story.
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