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Blue Whale Sighting Thrills Researchers

The blue whale -- the largest animal known to live on Earth -- has been on the endangered species list for almost 40 years. But a recent sighting off the coast of Alaska has given researchers some cause for optimism.

Jay Barlow, chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's vessel McArthur II, was conducting a survey of the more common humpback whale about 100 miles off Prince William Sound when he and his crew saw an enormous gusher from just above the water's surface.

It turned out to be the first documented sighting of a blue whale in the region in 30 years, Barlow says. Researchers saw three whales during a two-day period in mid-July. They managed to take samples of skin and blubber for genetic testing and pollutant studies.

A NOAA article on the sighting says that blue whales visit the North Pacific in summer to feed before returning to warmer southern waters for the winter. It's estimated that 12,000 blue whales remain worldwide, with perhaps 2,000 feeding in U.S. waters.

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Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.