CORDOVA (AP) -- A killer whale that beached itself and died in Hartney Bay has been identified as belonging to a pod that has dwindled in size since the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The 30-year-old whale, whose scientific name is ''AT 1'', died July 18. Lianna Jack and Donna Willoya of the Alaska Sea Otter and Steller Sea Lion Commission made the identification.
The whale, also called ''Eyak,'' had been traveling for a number of years in the company of another male orca named ''AT 14'' and commonly referred to as ''Eccles.'' Both whales were from the same pod of ''transients'' that are not attached to a particular bay in Southcentral Alaska, preferring instead to wander the coastline.
Prince William Sound orca expert Craig Matkin said the pod of transients in the 1980s was the most frequently encountered killer whale group in the sound. Since 1990, however, nine members of the group have not been seen and two more disappeared in 1992.
Matkin says no calves have been born to the pod since 1984 and he is concerned about its future. In 1999, there were 11 whales left, half the population of the pod in the 1980s. Now, there are 10 left.
Scientists speculate that the pod's decline may be traced to inhaling oil and eating oiled seals following the 11 million gallon spill in 1989.
Because transients often eat marine mammals, while ''resident'' killer whales tend to eat fish, the transients are at much greater risk of building up contaminants in their tissues from eating seal blubber.
Matkin recently found contaminant levels in the whales that are 10 to 20 times higher than in resident orcas. The contaminants consist of DDT and its breakdown compounds, plus various PCB compounds, which affect reproduction in marine mammals.
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