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Gray whale strands in West Seattle

     
A male (initially thought to be female) sub-adult gray whale stranded and died on a private beach in West Seattle late Wednesday afternoon. Yesterday NOAA stranding expert Kristin Wilkinson and other experts completed an initial evaluation of the whale. After review of photos from the preliminary assessment, Jessie Huggins of Cascadia Research has been able to determine that the whale is indeed male. Both male and female whales have mammary teats, but Jessie’s many years of work with gray whales enabled her to clarify the sex. There were no obvious injuries or cause of death; however, the male was underweight. Shown at right, Kristin takes initial measurements of the mammal’s length - approximately 33 feet, possibly more. The length will help researchers estimate the whale’s age. Gray whales can grow to 50 feet long, weighing 80,000 pounds. For many years, the lifespan of the mysterious gray whale has been gauged to be between 45-60 years, although one whale was estimated to be 75-80 years of age at death. New research has led to the belief that their lifespan can be well over 100 years.

The whale is being towed to an undisclosed location where a necropsy (tentatively scheduled for Sunday) will be led by Cascadia Research and WDFW biologists. The body will be left to decompose over time and nourish the ecosystem. A local college will then recover the skeletal remains for educational purposes. View a photo gallery.

UPDATE: 4/20 NECROPSY RESULTS REVEALED
For the disturbing necropsy results on this gray whale, please click here.

Links of interest:
Seal Sitter founder and renowned nature writer Brenda Peterson co-authored (with native American Linda Hogan) the book, Sightings: The Gray Whale’s Mysterious Journey.

Seal Sitter scientific advisor, Dr. Toni Frohoff, is featured in a New York Times Magazine article about the gray whale birthing lagoons in Baja, Mexico.

SAD UPDATE: According to Cascadia Research, the gray whale seen feeding in West Seattle waters (not the whale discussed in the above post) on March 27th has been photographically matched to a 40 foot adult whale that died on April 11th near Fidalgo Island. Read the report here.

Related news:
Gray whales wash up in area waters (Vancouver Sun)
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