July 16, 2009 in Nation/World

Globs of mysterious goo floating off Alaska coast

Dark strands of unidentified glop extend for miles
Don Hunter McClatchy
 

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Something big and strange is floating through the Chukchi Sea off the Alaska coast.

Hunters from Wainwright, Alaska, first started noticing the stuff sometime early last week. It’s thick and dark and “gooey” and is drifting for miles in the cold Arctic waters, according to Gordon Brower with the North Slope Borough’s Planning and Community Services Department.

Brower and other borough officials, joined by the U.S. Coast Guard, flew out to Wainwright, on Alaska’s north coast, to investigate. The agencies found “globs” of the stuff floating miles offshore Friday and collected samples for testing.

Later, Brower said, the North Slope team in a borough helicopter spotted a long strand of the stuff and followed it for about 15 miles, shooting video from the air.

The next day the floating substance arrived offshore from Barrow, about 90 miles east of Wainwright, and borough officials went out in boats, collected more samples and sent them off for testing too.

Nobody knows for sure what the gunk is, but Petty Officer 1st Class Terry Hasenauer says the Coast Guard is sure what it is not.

“It’s certainly biological,” Hasenauer said. “It’s definitely not an oil product of any kind. It has no characteristics of an oil, or a hazardous substance, for that matter.

“It’s definitely, by the smell and the makeup of it, it’s some sort of naturally occurring organic or otherwise marine organism.”

Something else: No one in Barrow or Wainwright can remember seeing anything like this before, Brower said.

“That’s one of the reasons we went out, because in recent history I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this,” he said.

The stuff is “gooey” and looks dark against the bright white ice floating in the Arctic Ocean, Brower said.

“It’s pitch black when it hits ice and it kind of discolors the ice and hangs off of it,” Brower said.

He saw some jellyfish tangled up in the stuff, and someone turned in what was left of a dead goose – just bones and feathers – to the borough’s wildlife department.

“It kind of has an odor; I can’t describe it,” he said.

Hasenauer said the Coast Guard’s samples are being analyzed in Anchorage. Results may be back sometime next week.

Meanwhile, the brownish-blackish gunk is drifting along the coast to the northeast, Brower said.

For the most part, the mystery substance seems to have stayed away from shore.

“We did get some residents saying it was being pushed against the shoreline by ice in some areas,” Brower said, “but then we get another east wind and it gets pushed back out there.”


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