The population of right whales in Alaska waters is estimated to be around 30. The animals were heavily hunted for decades, and even picked up their name because they were the “right” whale to hunt: Right whales are slow moving and float when killed.
The eastern population of North Pacific Right Whales call Alaska home, but they are rarely seen. In August, however, two groups of two whales each were spotted in the waters around Kodiak. Of the four whales, two were known to researchers, but two were previously unknown. Four right whales in a month may not seem impressive, but those whales amount to over 10% of the entire population.
The story of the beached orca near Prince of Wales Island in Alaska caught the attention of many of you. The killer whale, now known to be T146D, was found by locals recently, trapped out of water on some rocks.
The locals kept it wet, first by pouring water from buckets on the orca, then by spraying water from a yacht that showed up to help out. Eventually, NOAA fisheries experts came along to keep watch over the stranded orca.
T146D ended up getting some cuts and abrasions from the rocks, but after at least 6 hours of being stranded, the tide came in, and the orca was able to free itself.
T146D is a Biggs Orca, which has a population of approximately 300, and they ply the waters off western North America. T146D is thought to be a female, but that is an educated guess. The killer whale is known to be 13 years old.
There was some speculation early on, that the orca was caught off guard due to the 8.2 earthquake recently off the coast of Alaska. NOAA has disputed that, saying there is absolutely no evidence of the earthquake having anything to do with the stranding. More than likely, the orca was hunting harbor seals and came too close to the rocks. There have been five live-strandings of Biggs Orcas in the past 20 years. All survived the ordeal and rejoined their pod, according to NOAA. The population of Biggs Orcas are known to hunt harbor seals in shallow waters.
The Aleutian Chain was rocked by an incredible storm over New Years. The wonderfully named Bomb Cyclone, set a record in Alaska for a low pressure system.
High and low-pressure systems form when air mass and temperature differences between the surface of the Earth, and the upper atmosphere, create vertical currents. In a low pressure system, the air currents flow upward, sucking air away from the earth’s surface like a giant Shop*Vac.
Eareckson Air Force Base on Shemya Island recorded the record low pressure at 924.8 millibars.
A sea buoy off of Amchitka Island, registered a wave at 58.1 feet. Winds at Shemya hit gusts of 83 mph. This was an impressive storm that pummeled the outer islands of the Aleutian Chain. From Atka to Adak, the islands were seeing 40-50 foot waves and hurricane force winds.
St Lawrence Island and the Yukon Delta saw high winds and blizzard conditions when the storm hit Alaska’s mainland.
Unlike a hurricane, which extract heat from the ocean, as they grow in power, a maritime cyclone creates energy by drawing together warm and cold air masses. It’s the energy created when the warm air rises and the cold air sinks, that gives rise to the cyclone.
The U.S. destroyer, Abner Read, struck a Japanese mine off the coast of Kiska Island on the 18 August 1943 during the Battle of Kiska. The explosion tore off the ship’s stern. There were over 300 men on board the Abner Read that day, many were in their bunks in the stern when the mine blew at approximately 1:50am. 71 sailors died, but 20 were hauled out of the frigid Bering Sea waters.
The Abner Read after the explosion off the coast of Kiska
The crew was able to keep the destroyer afloat. The ship was shored up as best they could, the main compartment was kept water tight, and a homemade rudder was attached. Two U.S. Navy ships then towed the Abner Read to port.
The Abner Read in floating dry dock
Within months, the Abner Read had its stern repaired, and the destroyer rejoined the war.
In July of this year, a research team funded by NOAA, discovered the Abner Read’s stern off the coast of Kiska Island. It’s general location has been known, and the team of scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the University of Delaware used multi beam sonar to locate the wreckage. They then sent a remote operated submersible down to the stern, which was in 290 feet of water.
Photo credit: NOAA
The stern section measures 75 feet long and 18 feet high, and is now covered in marine life.
Gun on Abner Read stern section; Photo credit: NOAA
Daryl Weathers was a 19 year old seaman on the Abner Read. He is the last known survivor from the destroyer on that August day in 1943. Weathers is 94 now, and lives in Seal Beach, California. When told that the stern section had been found, Weathers expressed surprise saying, “That’s the end of the world up there.”
For its wartime service, the Abner Read received four battle stars from the Pacific Theater. In November of 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese launched a kamikaze attack. A Japanese dive bomber (VAL) made it through the anti aircraft fire, although it had been hit. The bomber was able to drop one of its bombs down the destroyer’s smokestack, blowing up the engine room. The VAL then crashed across the main deck, setting it in flames. The Abner Read sank within hours.
The Abner Read is struck by a kamikaze attack in November 1944