Over the past several decades, scientists out of Homer & Seward, Alaska have tracked a pod of killer whales that they have dubbed The Chugach Transients. In 1989, this particular pod swam through the Exxon Valdez oil spill. That year, the pod had 22 members. The following year, nine members had died.
Today, only seven remain, including a 46 year old male known as Egagutak. Individual whales can be identified by photographs, which is what happened with Egagutak this summer, when a tour group sent his photo to the North Gulf Oceanic Society. Individual pods of whales are also identified acoustically, because a pod’s call is unique.
The Chugach Transients have not had a calf in the thirty plus years since the oil spill. The exact reason is not known, but most killer whale pods in Alaska waters are doing well, but the two that swam through the oil spill are not.
At 46 years of age, Egagutak is nearing the end of his lifespan. Killer whale males typically live 45-50 years. The pod also seems to be nearing its end. With no calves being born, this particular pod of killer whale and their unique song will go extinct.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council was tasked with spending the money from the civil settlement after the oil spill. They have funded the research into the study of the Chugach Transients until this year, when they decided that the council would no longer support the research.
Sources: North Gulf Oceanic Society, University of Alaska Southeast, Alaska Public Media