False killer whale spotted in Southeast

Posted: Thursday, July 03, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A false killer whale made a rare appearance this spring in the Inside Passage waters near Juneau.

''It's uncommon for a false killer whale to be this far north,'' said James Balsiger of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ''We would like people to keep their eyes open for this whale and report any sightings to our scientists. It is possible the whale is following boats up and down the Inside Passage.''

False killer whales are small black marine mammals not closely related to killer whales, said NOAA's Sheela McLean. They grow to 20 feet long, weigh up to two tons and have a tapering, rounded snout that overhangs their toothed jaw.

One of them trailed the Soso, a 24-foot sailboat, for about 2 1/2 hours May 19 in an area just south of Juneau, between Grand Island and the Juneau harbor. The skipper, Noel Cada, reported the sighting to whale researchers in Sitka when he stopped there later in June. The researchers sent copies of his photographs to the National Marine Mammal Laboratory and confirmed it was a false killer whale.

The whales are rare and generally prefer tropical and warm temperate waters, according to NOAA. It also is unusual to find one traveling alone, the agency said.

There is speculation, NOAA said, that the whale seen near Juneau is the same one that had, until recently, been following boats off Vancouver, British Columbia, since 1990.

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