One Whale Seen in Aerial Mammal Survey


110224.survey.jpgVisibility was spectacular during the Feb. 24 flight over the western side of Kodiak Island. While only a single humpback whale was sighted, scores of seals were logged in the vicinity of the Trinity Islands with data forwarded on to Alaska Fish and Game. Jacob Resneck/KMXT photo

Jacob Resneck/KMXT

Researchers in Kodiak routinely survey the archipelago’s marine mammal population. Migrations of whales and populations of harbor seals help biologists help track the health of the ecosystems which are indicators for things like climate change and other phenomena. KMXT’s Jacob Resneck rode along on a recent air survey and filed this report.

— survey flight pkg 4:58 "We strap into a … Island, I’m Jacob Resneck."

— amb – starting up

We strap into a DeHavilland float plane at Trident Basin off Near Island. Researcher Kate Wynne, a marine mammal specialist for Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Program sketches out the afternoon’s course.

— wynne 1

— amb – starting up

Then Pilot Dean Andrew pushes the throttle forward.

— andrew2

In seconds we’re aloft. It’s a clear and sunny day – with excellent visibility as we move south running along Chiniak Bay, admiring the gun placements on Long Island. At Kiliuda Bay we cut across toward Old Harbor and south to the Trinity Islands

We cruise at about 1,000 feet above the water and I’ve been tasked to keep a look out on the right.

— wynne2

It being February Wynne explains it’s a slow time for whale sightings but important to see how many are wintering around Kodiak before they migrate out of the area.

— wynne3

It’s just in the Sitkalidak Straits where we sight our first whale.

— wynne4

The lone male humpback is the only sighting that day but that’s not all researchers are looking for. The archipelago (arc-ih-pelago) is critical habitat for harbor seals and other marine mammals. Many of these species have been in decline for years.

We buzz along the shoreline of Tugidak (teh-geed-ik) Island. This area is indicative of the plight of harbor seals in the Gulf of Alaska.

— wynne7

We head back north toward Uganik Bay. The water is a brilliant turquoise blue. Also aboard is researcher Lei Guo from China. Guo recently completed his PhD at the UAF Fairbank’s Fish Tech on Near Island where’s he’s been studying the makeup of the ocean and how it relates to food stocks. He remarks on the unseasonable bluish green color of the water. So we ask him about this.

— lei guo1

Wynne’s been photographing the seal along the shore. The photos will be turned over to Alaska Fish and Game where they’ll be counted and logged.

More than three hours in the air and we’ve only seen a single whale.

— wynne9

So it’s time to head back. Despite the lack of whale sightings, the seal data will be useful to state biologists and the research is continuing.

amb – landing

Around Kodiak Island, I’m Jacob Resneck.


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