Rescuers freed a humpback whale stranded in Turnagain Arm. Then it got stuck again.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) officials are continuing to monitor the waters along Turnagain Arm for any sign of a young humpback whale that was stranded along the shoreline for a second time Monday night.
The whale was spotted between miles 87 and 88 of the Seward Highway shortly after 10 p.m. Monday. But by 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, as the waters approached high tide, there was no sign of the animal.
Barbara Mahoney, NOAA'S stranding coordinator heading up the response, confirms NOAA's enforcement officer patrolling the area was unable to locate the whale early Tuesday morning.
According to Mahoney, it's likely that the whale swam out with the tide. However, if the animal is deceased, its body now lies beneath the water.
She says low tide, around 1 p.m. Tuesday, will be the next window for officials to try to gather more information. If officers aren't able to spot the whale from the shoreline, Mahoney says NOAA will likely do an aerial search of the area.
In the case that the whale is found dead, Mahoney says a necropsy will be requested.
The stranding saga started Sunday around 1 p.m. when Mahoney says she got an initial report of a stranded whale. The young stranded humpback whale returned to open water Monday afternoon just outside of Girdwood near mile marker 86.
NOAA officials worked with Girdwood firefighters and Whittier police to rescue the whale.
Researchers believe the humpback may have followed a pod of beluga whales up the Turnagain Arm and became confused in the shallower waters.
Officials crews were out at 10 a.m. trying to help the animal as it was mostly out of the water. Their plan was to make sure the whale stayed on its belly and keep pouring water on it until the tide came in, giving it more room to swim away.
Biologists say it is common to see a pod of beluga whales, a stranded beluga or seal along the Turnagain Arm. However, seeing a humpback whale in the area is rare.
After the whale was freed it started swimming further into the Turnagain Arm, but crews used boats to point it in another direction. NOAA officials said they would be watching the area to make sure it got out safely.
Around 8:30 p.m. Monday, the whale was spotted stuck again in shallow waters, this time further south in the inlet.
In an email Tuesday morning about 7:20, a NOAA spokesperson said no whale was stranded at that time.
Liz Raines contributed to this report.
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