Killer whales in danger of being stuck in frozen Alaska river
Two orcas swim in Alaska's Nushagak River on Tuesday.
October 7th, 2011
10:55 AM ET

Killer whales in danger of being stuck in frozen Alaska river

Three wayward killer whales are loitering 30 miles up an Alaska river, and federal wildlife officials are concerned they may be iced in when the river freezes over, possibly at the end of the month.

For three weeks, the whales have been spotted in the Nushagak River near Ekwok, Alaska. Marine mammal scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service say the whales are likely suffering stress from being in fresh water for such an extended period. The scientists say they're also concerned that if the whales don't head downstream soon, they'll be trapped in the river.

Water levels are dropping as colder temperatures reduce the flow from glaciers into the river. That could make it difficult for the whales to navigate certain sections of the river. And the Nushagak could freeze over by the end of October, according to the fisheries service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA biologist Barbara Mahoney said killer whales are sometimes seen where the Nushagak empties into Nushagak Bay near Dillingham, but none had ever been reported this far inland. In fact, this is the first time killer whales have spent a prolonged period of time in an Alaska river, according to NOAA.

Officials said the orcas are in an area when they are unlikely to encounter humans, but they are asking that people stay 100 yards away for their own safety and that of the animals.

The fisheries service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the local Bristol Bay Native Association are monitoring the situation to determine if and how the whales could be returned to salt water, federal officials said.

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Filed under: Alaska • Animals • Whales
soundoff (146 Responses)
  1. bugsy

    How are killer whales captured for places like sea world? Do the same thing one would do if they were being captured and then release them in the ocean...makes sense to me. Why wait until something more serious happens to them? Where is Green Peace?

    October 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Green Peace

    Somebody call? I heard my name...

    October 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. STOP HARP BEFORE IT STOPS YOU

    THE WHALES LOST THEIR DIRECTION BECAUSE MAN SCREWED UP HIS HABITAT OVER GREED! NICE ONE CONGRANDULATIONS NEW WORLD ORDER!

    October 7, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mad Ole Lady

    Sea World has room for replacements.

    October 8, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  5. gung hoe

    Wheres the jupan fishing fleet easy piclkings for them

    October 8, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. Sheila

    So much concern because they are orca's. What about the dolphins that were left to freeze to death in NJ's Shrewsbury River a few years ago? No doubt these orcas are staying there because they are afraid of something, or the parasites have infected their inner ears. It is so hard to capture them without hurting or killing them, but is it better to do nothing? They will die when the river freezes.

    October 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. fernace

    Every time I read something like this there's always some well meaning humans trying to "get the whale off the beach" or in this case the Orcas out of the river! We need to leave them alone! We need to understand that we don't know everything & if they are sick maybe they have taken themselves out of their pod so as not to infect the rest of their kind! We really should not attach human qualities to them, saying they're lost, confused, "wayward!" Have faith that if that's the case they'll find their way out, or that they possibly have a reason to be in that river! I've read of our rescue missions of whales that backfire & days later the whale is "beached" again! Unless we have caused the problem, we should leave them to figure out their own solution! These creatures are very intelligent, leave them to be the masters of their own destiny!!

    October 8, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. NOt A DUMMY

    These whales followed the salmon up river and are still gorging themselves, when the salmon leave so will the whales. If they dont leave they will probably die, life goes on.

    October 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Therapist

    Free Willy

    October 10, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
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