Scientists who are collecting samples from a young whale that beached, then died along Turnagain Arm this week have harvested the biggest sample of all: the female humpback's head.

Marine biologist Carol Fairfield is working on a project to freeze the giant head and barge it to San Diego. She said researchers there from San Diego State University and the University of California San Diego will use it to study whale acoustics — specifically, the types of sounds that humpbacks can hear in the ocean.

Biologist Carol Fairfield is transporting the whale head


"This is the only specimen of a humpback whale that has been collected for this particular study so it's a very important, very important species, very important sample," Fairfield said.

Fairfield said researchers hope to use the information to learn how to mitigate noise that could disturb whales. In order to do that they'll have to reconstruct the entire whale.

"So this whale will be frozen up at the port in Anchorage and it will be shipped down to San Diego, California," Fairfield said. "And they'll actually end up using a scanner, like a CT scanner that they use for rockets, because it's big enough to handle something like this and they'll reconstruct the whole thing there."

Fairfield isn't sure how long it will take to freeze the head, which she estimates weighs more than 1,000 pounds. She plans to put it in a deep freezer on Saturday and barge it out as soon as it's ready.

The washed-up whale draws onlookers


Overall, Fairfield said, the humpback has contributed quite a bit to both science and subsistence.

"I don't think there's a bit of this whale that has gone either unused by the Native population or by the research population," she said.

Fairfield said the whale's death has offered a unique opportunity to learn more about the species.

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