A Whale of a Story

A blue whale in Alaskan waters may be a sign of the species' recovery

12-01-2004 // Heidi Ridgley

THE SIGHTING of a blue whale in Alaskan waters has researchers hoping the largest animal on Earth is returning to its old haunts.

Hunted commercially from the 1860s to the 1960s, the endangered species hasn’t been spotted off Alaska for three decades, according to Jay Barlow, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Whalers killed an estimated 350,000 blue whales worldwide, including thousands in Alaska. Today, scientists estimate their entire population stands at about 12,000, with 2,000 in U.S. waters off California. The whales are also found in the western Pacific, the North Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Antarctic.

While studying humpback whales, scientists aboard a research vessel—about 100 nautical miles southeast of Prince William Sound—first saw a tall blow six to seven miles away. Upon moving closer they noted the dorsal fins were blue instead of black. Using a hollow-tip dart, the researchers took skin and blubber samples for genetic testing as well as to determine the effects pollution might be having on the species.

Just like blue whales—which can reach up to 100 feet long—Barlow described the sighting as “huge.”

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