Alaska is vast and fieldwork with marine mammals is often fraught with difficultly. It can be particularly challenging to study the resident killer whales here.

Despite their name, many pods do not stick to one area. Each pod has its own range and some are larger than others. When researching other resident killer whale populations, such as the southern residents, it’s possible to document every individual in the population on a yearly basis. This is not possible in Alaska! Pods go years without being seen and new pods are constantly being discovered.

Take AX27 pod for example. Their section of the southern Alaska resident photo-identification catalog has not been updated in eight years! The main killer whale biologists in Alaska conduct fieldwork in the Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound. AX27 pod is mainly found around Kodiak, Cook Inlet, and Kachemak Bay and only makes a rare trip to the main study regions. As a result, they have not been officially censused in nearly a decade.

Luckily for me, though, I see them on a regular basis during the summer. In August we found part of AX27 pod and I found that AX84 (I believe) has a calf that has not been documented before! She has one other offspring, AX114, who has sprouted and is becoming a mature bull.

Working in Kachemak Bay, I can help document pods that are not often seen by the biologists at the North Gulf Oceanic Society. Every encounter yields new information about pod structure and behavior. I feel very lucky to be able to work with these animals and learn something new every time I see them!