• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
News Alert: 2 confirmed dead in plane crash near Haines - Read More
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
2m 1s

Army drone spots beluga whales in distress

By Bonney Bowman 5:49 PM September 26, 2014
ANCHORAGE –

The U.S. Army’s unmanned aircraft are the eyes in the skies during missions, monitoring the action on the ground. But last month, the aircraft took on an unusual task.

On a Saturday at the end of August, soldiers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson were training with unmanned aircraft, supporting the National Guard.

“They were flying some UH-60 Blackhawks in the area and we were giving them an observational view of their training exercises,” said UAS operator Pfc. Raymond Lounsbury.

That’s when the drone’s camera spotted something unusual: large pods of beluga whales, high and dry in the mud in Eagle Bay.

Drone operator Pfc. Kristopher Harrell says for him, coming from Nevada, it was an exciting experience.

“It’s cool. It’s definitely not something you see every day, especially coming from a desert,” Harrell said.

Counts showed more than 70 whales stranded as the tide went out.

The soldiers thought five were dead, so they called the National Marine Fisheries offices, who launched a big response effort.

“It was money, it was time, it was staff because we were trying to get teams together for five necropsies and so it takes several people to conduct a necropsy on an animal as large as a beluga whale,” said marine mammal biologist Mandy Migura.

But then the cameras showed something else.

“We were able to watch the tide come back in and watch them go about their day and it saved a lot of people from going out there to make sure these whales were OK,” Lounsbury said.

“We were very concerned and it was really gratifying to be able, that same day, on a Saturday, to be able to view that video footage and see that the five animals that they tracked and they thought were dead were actively swimming,” Migura said.

The whales survived and the fisheries office called off the response, saving time and money.

It’s all part of their partnership with the military.

“They have been great. Their pilots have been sending us photographs when they see dead whales,” Migura said. “This experience seems to have been a really great outcome of that collaboration and that partnership.”

“Any time we get a chance to be able to help the community of the other areas in this great state, it’s a wonderful situation to be in,” Harrell said.

Helping stranded whales isn’t the soldiers’ usual mission, but it’s one they say they’re happy to accomplish.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Remains of Arkansas soldier killed in Colony Glacier plane crash returned home

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 27, 18:52

    An Arkansas National Guardsman who was killed in plane crash in Alaska 65 years ago has finally made it home. Staff Sgt. Robert Dale Van Fossen was laid to rest Saturday in Little Rock. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson ordered flags lowered to half mast in Van Fossen’s honor. His remains were found among the wreckage of […]

  • News

    Historic planes head to Dutch Harbor to mark 75th anniversary of Aleutians battle

    by Dave Leval on May 27, 18:43

    John Pletcher’s invitation is too good to ignore — a chance for myself to get back in the sky for the first time in a while. It takes his JRF-5 Grumman Goose just seconds to take flight at Anchorage’s Merrill Field, then it’s off to Dutch Harbor, to take part in the 75th anniversary of […]

  • News

    2 confirmed dead in Southeast Alaska plane crash

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 27, 14:46

    Last updated at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, May 27 Two people are confirmed dead and one is in critical condition following a fatal plane crash near the small Southeast Alaska community of Haines. The crash happened around 11 a.m. Saturday, according to NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson. Witnesses reported the plane crashed shortly after takeoff. Two of […]

  • News

    Feds to gain control over Kuskokwim king salmon management

    by Associated Press on May 27, 12:55

    BETHEL, Alaska (AP) – Starting next month, the management of king salmon on a southwestern Alaska river will transfer from state control to federal. KYUK-AM reports that as of June 12, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will begin to oversee the salmon living on lower and middle Kuskokwim River. Under federal law, the switch is […]

  • Lifestyle

    Gregg Allman of The Allman Brothers Band dies at age 69

    by Associated Press on May 27, 11:53

    SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – A publicist for rock legend Gregg Allman says the organist and singer for The Allman Brothers Band has died. He was 69. Ken Weinstein confirmed Saturday that Allman died at his home in Savannah, Georgia. Allman had cancelled some 2016 tour dates for health reasons. In March 2017, he canceled performances […]

  • Man hurling racial slurs kills 2 on Portland train

    by Associated Press on May 27, 10:35

    PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – The Latest on a stabbing on a Portland, Oregon, train that left two dead (all times local): 9:45 a.m. The 35-year-old Oregon man identified by authorities in the fatal stabbing of two people on a Portland light-rail train has a criminal record that includes stints in prison. Court records located by […]

  • News

    Juneau officials to consider zoning rules on historic homes

    by Associated Press on May 27, 10:24

    JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – The city and borough of Juneau is considering relaxing zoning rules on historic homes. KTOO-FM reported Friday that Juneau and Douglas homeowners that want to remodel or rebuild historic homes are faced with zoning laws that complicate the process. That’s because many of the rules did not exist when the historic neighborhoods […]

  • News

    5 new AST K-9 teams hit the streets

    by Dave Leval on May 26, 21:04

    Friday was graduation day at the Alaska State Troopers headquarters. Five K-9 dogs were certified to detect drugs. Troopers now have a total of six dog teams for drug detection, but two of them, Mocha and Mak, are different; they’re the first dogs to not be trained to sniff out marijuana. Mocha and Mak were […]