The  Killer  Whales  of  Prince  William  Sound

excerts of

Chapter 4
Killer Whale Pods in Prince William Sound


For updated information on the status of killer whales in Prince William Sound, we recommend that you join the North Gulf Oceanic Society. They publish an annual research paper.

North Gulf Oceanic Society
P.O. Box 15244
Homer, Alaska 99603


AE pod numbered thirteen whales in 1984 and currently (1993) contains fifteen whales. There have been four deaths and sic births since 1984. The AEs were a very difficult group to approach and photograph in 1984. They seemed particularly shy of the boat, constantly turning away and spending long periods underwater. Graeme Ellis thought it might be my poor technique that prohibited the close approach. I thoroughly enjoyed his frustration after he also was rebuffed in attempts to get close enough for proper photographs. Because of their initial shyness and the lack of nicks and scars on some individuals, identification of these whales were difficult in early encounters. Some AE pod whales were not clearly identified until 1985. Remarkably, the have become accustomed to the presence of researchers and now frequently approach and swim alongside the boat. Although AE pod is acoustically similar and probably closely related to AK pod, the two pods do not frequently travel together. AE pod is often seen swimming alone. One AE pod whale was photographed in 1977.

AE pod has been frequently sighted in May and June when other resident pods are not commonly encountered. They regularly travel in the northern Sound where tour boats observe them. They have a very distinct vocal dialect, and one large male with a curved dorsal fin, AE1, (photograph in book) and the female, AE10, (photograph in book) make the pod easy to distinguish.

AN10 and AN20 PODS

These two pods were considered a single pod of thirty-five whales in 1984. When we first heard the distinctive calls of AN pod, we nicknamed it "Graeme pod." Their whining calls reminded us of Graeme Ellis complaining about the poor quality of some of the photographs we provide him to make identifications. Often, these whales seem to take on the timbre of a bunch of yowling alley cats.

Since 1988, AN10 and AN20 pods (originally considered subpods) have traveled together less than fifty percent of the time and are by Dr. Bigg's definition two separate pods. This splintering of one very large pod into smaller pods may demonstrate a mechanism for new pod formation. The two splinter pods are named after focal matriarchs in each pod.

There were seventeen members of the smaller AN10 pod in 1993. The larger AN20 pod had twenty-nine members when last photographed in 1990. Since 1988, only the smaller AN10 pod has been regularly sighted in the Sound frequently in the company of other pods - especially the AB pod. AN10 pod is distinguished by the large adult male AND (photograph in book) and the female AN10 (photograph in book) which has distinctive notches at the base of her dorsal fin. One male in this group (AN1) has a collapsed dorsal fin.

It appears that the AN20 pod now centers its range outside the Sound. It is identified by the notched fin adult male AN25 (photograph in book) and female AN17 (photograph in book) which has an open saddle patch. Members of both AN10 and AN20 pods were first photographed in the Sound in 1977.


In 1984, the year of our first systematic attempt to photograph all the killer whale pods of Prince William Sound, our very first encounter was with this group. Kirsten Englund and I struggled with unfamiliar recording equipment and a new camera setup, unaware that most of the AT1 group was present. This was the largest aggregation of transient whales we have ever photographed together at one time, and these often silent whales were actively vocalizing. Our pictures and recordings were not the best but provided a starting point for future study. At the time, we had no idea of the uniqueness of this encounter.

Although members of this group, such as the distinctive AT10 and AT1 (photographs of both in the book) are often sighted, none of the twenty-one whales in this group have ever been noted associating with resident pods or with other transients. Members of this group are observed in various size aggregations which usually number between one and seven individuals, although larger aggregations are sometimes seen. The twenty-one AT1 whales are encountered much more frequently than the transients of British Columbia and Washington State. The AT1s tend to travel in small groups with fluid memberships but only with other AT1 whales. Furthermore, their common calls, which have been studied in detail by Eva Saulitis in her Master's thesis, are distinct from the calls of all other whales roaming the Sound. The uniqueness of this group of whales remains an enigma to whale researchers. Their social structure remains unclear and is currently under study. Future genetic studies may shed some light on their uniqueness and their relationship to other resident and transient whales of the Sound. These whales have been repeatedly observed feeding on harbor seals, Dall's and harbor porpoise.