Deceased gray whale found near Cordova

An investigation is continuing after initial results of a partial necropsy performed on a deceased 42-foot long young adult female gray whale beached in the Copper River Delta near Cordova failed to determine cause of death.

Officials with NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center said an NOAA authorized team of marine mammal biologists, aided by the U.S. Coast Guard, collected tissue samples from the dead whale on Egg Island on May 19.

Lead veterinarian Kathy Burek-Huntington from Alaska Veterinary Pathology Services said the animal did not appear emaciated, but that lubber samples will be analyzed for more information on nutritional status.

First reports of the dead whale were received by NOAA on May 14, but the tide carried it offshore. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew from Kodiak relocated the whale on May 17, after which Coast Guard responders collected tissue samples and photos for NOAA biologists.

This is the second confirmed dead gray whale found in Alaska in May. NOAA has been monitoring the location of the first dead gray whale in Turnagain Arm, Cook Inlet, which was reported on May 9. Biologists are hoping the body of that whale will move to a safe, accessible location so biologists can collect tissue samples.

NOAA Fisheries and its stranding partners have been tracking a spike in gray whale mortalities along the west coast of the United States during their spring migration. Nearly 60 gray whales have been reported stranded dead along the west coast, from Mexico to Alaska. Of those necropsied, many were found to be skinny and malnourished.


Gray whales travel up to 10,000 miles roundtrip between winter nursing lagoons in Mexico to summer feeding grounds in the Arctic.

The eastern North Pacific population of gray whales was once listed under the Endangered Species Act but successfully recovered and was delisted in 1994, NOAA officials said. They remain protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Scientists estimated that are some 27,000 eastern North Pacific gray whales. Western North Pacific gray whales still remain endangered, with around 200 individuals in their population.