The location of a perplexing piece of flotsam that turned out to be a dead whale, without a tail and head, north of St. James Bay on the west side of Lynn Canal. (Courtesy Image | Julie Speegle)

The location of a perplexing piece of flotsam that turned out to be a dead whale, without a tail and head, north of St. James Bay on the west side of Lynn Canal. (Courtesy Image | Julie Speegle)

Fishermen spot giant squid, turns out to be a ‘badly-decomposed’ whale

The whale, now missing its head and tail, died in June, likely after collision with large vessel

What fishermen thought was a rarely-seen sea creature on Tuesday turned out to be a badly-decomposed cetacean.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received reports Tuesday night from fishermen near St. James Bay, saying that something peculiar was floating in the water.

“We received a report yesterday afternoon that there was a giant 30-foot squid in the area,” said NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle in a Wednesday phone interview.

NOAA sent a biologist from the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute out to investigate Tuesday evening. The biologist didn’t find a giant squid, but a “badly-decomposed” humpback whale, Speegle said. The whale was missing its head and tail. Fishermen may have mistaken protruding bones for an eye, Speegle said.

“We think it was floating belly up and there were some vertebrae and a ball and socket from the pectoral joint that were visible,” Speegle said. “That may have been what people were mistaking for an eye.”

NOAA believes this is the same humpback carcass that washed ashore after a large vessel likely struck and killed it, Speegle said. The Marine Mammal Stranding Network conducted a necropsy on that whale in June, hoping to establish what killed the 38.7-foot “sub adult” male. Results from that work won’t be available until late in the year.

The whale was seen beached Tuesday afternoon before it was spotted floating later that day, Speegle said.

Saturday saw the highest and lowest tide in July for the Juneau area. Water levels dropped 24.4 feet from a high tide to low. Large tidal movement can stir up more flotsam than normal, and Saturday’s high movement was followed by several days of similarly large tides.


• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and kgullufsen@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.


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