An orca whale got stranded on the coastline of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska last Thursday. Fortunately, a ship, the Steadfast, was nearby. And its sailors, noticing the whale’s plight, watched over the beached Bigg’s killer whale.
The animal was beached on the rocky shores of the island for about six hours, until the high tide came in. In the meantime, the sailors notified wildlife officials and tried to help the whale.
Eventually, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officer arrived on the scene. They gave the Steadfast crew the go-ahead “to use a seawater pump to keep the whale wet and any birds away,” NOAA spokesperson Julie Fair told People.
Beached Orca Vocalized to Nearby Whales
While waiting for NOAA backup to get there, people on the ground deployed buckets of water and a hose to help the sailors keep the whale moist.
As the hours ticked by, the whale began to vocalize. It seemed to draw other killer whales to the area.
“At times during the stranding, the killer whale was vocalizing, and other killer whales were spotted in the vicinity,” Fair told People.
Meanwhile, TikTok user Aroon Melane recorded a video of the collaborative effort to keep the whale wet while it was stuck on the coastline.
“We heard there was a beached killer whale, so we went to go find it. NOAA gave permission to keep the orca wet and protected from animals until they could arrive,” Melane posted. “We were working on getting a hose and pump to work. In the meantime, we used buckets to keep the orca wet. The orca started getting more lively after we put water on it.”
The Canadian conservation organization Bay Cetology identified the whale as a 13-year-old juvenile Bigg’s killer whale from the west coast transient population, also known as “T146D.”
Group Shares Study on Stranded Killer Whales
There was an 8.2-magnitude earthquake in the area last week. However, the NOAA doesn’t think that had anything to do with the whale getting stranded.
Rather, Bay Cetology suggested that the whale may have gotten stuck while chasing prey, possibly seals. The group shared a study that found killer whales sometimes get beached while pursuing their dinner.
The study’s authors went on to show that all the whales live-stranded off the west coast of North America – or at least, all documented cases over the past four decades – have been Bigg’s killer whales, like the one stranded off Prince Wales Island last week.
The scientists concluded that stranding is a risk that comes with the Bigg’s killer whale’s foraging practices. Fortunately, all those whales survived their strandings.
“Human responses to live-stranded killer whales are not always necessary. But when they are, they can help preserve their lives, family bonds, and culture,” the study’s authors concluded.