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Friday, June 12, 2015

An Elusive Sighting

The floating object was truly a mystery to me. What was this large  white  mass at the outlet of Litnik Bay? It hardly moved and looked like a small amphitheater. Very un-alaskan, really. For a moment I thought it could be yacht. What could produce such a large bright reflection?  

 Every summer our family spends several weeks on Afognak Island hiking, catching salmon, picking berries, resting on the beach.  Laying in the sun.  Or hiding from the rain and wind in the woods.  The day after school got out this spring, we  packed up and headed straight out to Afognak. It was several days into the trip  when  we saw this unusual structure in the far distance.  

On the day we were preparing to  leave my husband Patrick took our two kids on a boat ride across the way. They ventured over to see what the white structure was.  It was a large fin whale which had  very recently washed up on shore. There were long black and white stripes along the whale's body and it was bloated and swollen. The bears hadn't yet discovered it.  

When the kids returned from their boat ride, I heard the details and saw their pictures with amazement. I never imagined it was a whale.   As we flew away from camp later that day,  we asked the pilot to make a distant pass over the whale to take a  look.   There the whale laid, so majestically against the cliffs in the calm surf.   

 I later learned that a very young fin whale calf  also died and was found floating nearby.  It is highly probably that this is mom-baby pair, and that the mom was possibly struck by  a boat.  This momma-calf pairing  can't be confirmed without sampling from both whales.    

Fin whales are the second largest whales with blue whales being the largest. They are more solitary  than other whales. And they are a challenge to ID and track compared to other whale species. 

After returning to Kodiak during the course of unpacking,  I asked Nora and Stuey what their favorite part of our camping trip was. Was it the smores? Beach time? Camping in the tents? Unlimited hot cocoa? Seeing the sea otters? It was none of the above. Nearly in unison, they both answered, "Seeing the dead whale." I was surprised, but not really.  It is a moment which may never happen again in their life time-to run across such a newly beached whale, by itself. Undisturbed by animals or people. It was so surreal to all of us. 

Today I ran across one of the local whale experts and asked how the Fin whale was doing.   The whales' whereabouts is unknown~she became unbeached from where we saw her and was last seen floating through Kupreaonof straits towards Shelikof. The recently decreased  whale and the baby calf  are staying true to the spirit of the  fin whale spirit-remaining elusive.  Now the the currents, tides and winds are in charge. With their mighty forces, it is these elements of nature which will determine the final resting lands for these two beautiful mammals.   

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