Pygmy sperm whale found near Yakutat

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2003

YAKUTAT (AP) A small toothed whale found dead this month on a beach near Yakutat is the northernmost documented observation of a pygmy sperm whale on the Pacific Coast of North America.

National Marine Fisheries Service experts in Seattle identified the whale, Kogia breviceps, and determined that they have no prior documentation of a pygmy sperm whale so far north.

Yakutat is about 210 miles northwest of Juneau. The dead whale was found July 7. A Yakutat biologist and volunteer in the whale stranding network took photographs and samples to test for contaminants and for DNA.

The Yakutat pygmy sperm whale was 10 feet, 7 inches long, a typical adult size.

Like others of its kind, it had long, curved, sharp teeth in its underslung lower jaw and looked much like its relative, the sperm whale, which sometimes grows to 50 feet and 40 tons.

Pygmy sperm whales are rarely seen and their numbers and habits are not well known, according to NOAA. They inhabit the deep waters of tropical, subtropical and temperate seas. They do not dive dramatically, but simply slide deeper into the water.

The whales move slowly and likely employ stealth while they hunt squid, shrimp, cuttlefish and other small fish, according to NOAA.

In the Atlantic, pygmy sperm whales have been found as far north as Ireland and Nova Scotia. The most northern sighting along the eastern Pacific Coast prior to the Yakutat finding was in 1942 in Gray's Harbor, Wash.

It's the second time this summer that NOAA Fisheries whale experts have identified small whales that are relatively unknown and at the extremes of their ranges in Alaska waters. Last month, a false killer whale was photographed following a sailing boat near Juneau and positively identified.

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