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stranded gray whale

Juvenile gray whale strands in Bremerton

Early yesterday Seal Sitters participated in the necropsy of a juvenile gray whale that stranded in Bremerton’s Dyes Inlet. The emaciated whale died on a stretch of private beach on Wednesday morning. The necropsy team led by Dyanna Lambourn, WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations, and Jessie Huggins, Cascadia Research, consisted of biologists, interns and volunteers from Cascadia, WDFW, Compassionate Critter Care, West Sound Wildlife, and Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network (SSMMSN). As the team assembled and discussed logistics, WDFW’s Josh Oliver (above) evaluated the situation with the receding tide. Tissue samples were obtained for various lab tests in hopes of determining the cause of death; however, it appears most likely that a number of factors contributed to the young whale’s demise. Read in more detail the findings on Cascadia’s website.

Shown at right, Seal Sitters co-lead investigator Rachel kept curious onlookers informed as to the necropsy process and shared information on the fascinating world of gray whales. This the 4th gray whale to have stranded this year - a number that is well within the normal range for our area.

Necropsies of marine mammals are vital to understanding the health of overall populations - as well as, of course, the cause of death for an individual animal. The work performed by the biologists, interns and volunteers is not only a challenge of mental and scientific sleuthing, but also an extremely physical endeavor. View a gallery of the whale’s necropsy. WARNING: While we have edited images carefully to be representative of the necropsy, but not overly graphic, it is not suitable for viewing by small children.

Lend a hand for beach cleanup and save marine life

Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network and the Alki Community Council (ACC) are teaming up to organize a beach cleanup on Monday, May16th from 9am-noon. Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA NW Stranding Expert, will speak briefly at 9 about the dangers that human trash and marine debris poses to all marine life, from the tiniest of invertebrates to the largest of whales. As many of you may remember, the necropsy of the gray whale that stranded and died on a West Seattle beach last April revealed a stomach void of food, but full of trash - plastic bags, funnel, golf ball, duct tape, sweat pants. For a complete list of items (courtesy of Cascadia Research who led the whale necropsy), click here. Trash that ends up on our beaches inevitably ends up in our marine waters - causing injuries and death to marine life, often by suffocation or strangulation. For more in-depth information on marine pollution, please visit the pollution page on Seal Sitters’ website, Toxic Seals - Our Polluted Waters.


NOAA has produced several children’s activity booklets about marine debris that are available here for download: Protect the Ocean and Understanding Marine Debris. Both contain puzzles and illustrations that help kids understand the importance of keeping the beaches and marine waters free of trash - so that sea life will be here for many generations to come!

Thanks to the Americorps (Washington Reading Corps of South King County) volunteers who will be participating in the beach cleanup as well as members of ACC and Seal Sitters. This event is open to the public and all those interested in making a difference for the environment. If you, your group, or class would like to lend a hand, meet us at the Statue of Liberty across from Starbucks (Alki Ave SW near 61st) at 9am. If you have questions, please contact Larry Carpenter @ 206-938-0887. Special thanks to Carol Baker and Colleen Hackett of Seattle Parks for providing cleanup tools. Tully’s, Starbucks and Pioneer Coffee are all generously donating coffee to keep our volunteers warm and energized throughout the morning. We hope to see you there!

Gray whale strands on Tulalip Reservation

(see updates at end of story)
The Everett gray whale stranded yesterday in Tulalip Bay on the Tulalip Reservation. Members of Seal Sitters, Sno-King Marine Mammal Stranding Network and WDFW responded to the scene. The mud flats of the bay restricted access to the whale which lay exposed to the extreme sun and heat. As the tide came in, however, the Tulalip Bay Fire Department zodiac managed to get a pump close enough to keep the whale wet and cool. A borrowed canoe allowed a stranding team member to get sheets to the scene so the whale could be covered and more protected. The tide finally covered the whale about 2pm. The Tulalip tribes honored the whale and prayed for him to get well. The repeated stranding behavior of this adult whale is indicative that he is most likely dying. The gray was spotted by NOAA on Saturday at 4:30 at Spee-Bi-Dah heading north into Port Susan. See related gallery of photos.

7/13/10 Transient orcas were seen attacking the gray whale yesterday afternoon (Monday). Related story and video.
7/12/10 The gray was spotted this morning (Monday) at 6:30 am heading east toward Camano Island.

Gray whale strands in Everett

A gray whale stranded yesterday morning in Everett off Harborview Park. It is believed to be the same whale that has been feeding in the Everett area for some weeks now. NOAA had responded to earlier reports of a stranding at this location, but the whale had managed to swim free before the stranding expert arrived.

Yesterday, however, the whale was marooned on the beach at low tide. Concerned neighbors in shorts and swimsuits assisted in keeping the exposed whale wet and cool. However, as the water rose and the whale became more active it became too dangerous for them to continue to help. Members of the NW Stranding Network (above photo from left, Jessie Huggins of Cascadia Research, Kristin Wilkinson of NOAA, and Brian Chittick of Snohomish-King County Stranding Network) labored for hours pouring buckets of water over the whale - until finally the incoming tide created a water level deep enough that he could swim free. They then boarded a boat with a team from WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations and monitored the whale until 2pm when he finally left the shallower waters and headed out into the strait.

Early this morning the whale stranded again and the Stranding Network responded. Approximately 2:30 this afternoon he was in 7-10 feet of water as the tide came in. NOAA is not optimistic about the whale’s survival based on his behavior and weakened condition.

Gray whale necropsy reveals trash inside stomach

Yesterday the necropsy results were released for the gray whale that stranded in West Seattle. The Northwest Stranding Network team that performed the necropsy found an unusual amount of human trash in the stomach of the whale - plastic bags, surgical gloves, sweat pants, other plastic and fabric pieces, and a golf ball. As part of the Stranding Network, Seal Sitters’ first responder was invited to help document, however, could not publicly discuss the necropsy until the official results were released. Read Cascadia Research’s necropsy summary and findings here and a full list of items found in the whale’s stomach.

The public should give many thanks to the necropsy team for performing this incredibly important and physically strenuous work. Due to their dedication and efforts, we are now aware of the role that pollution may have played in the death of this whale - as it indeed impacts all our marine life. Plastics that end up in our waters never go away - they eventually end up as micro particles which absorb contaminants and enter the marine food chain, causing deformities and disease. It is well known that our local seals and orcas are laced with pcbs and other toxic chemicals. Depletion of food sources caused by commercial overfishing and pollution can be reversed by getting involved. You CAN make a difference - pick up trash on the beach, don’t purchase seafood on the seafood watch list and ask your grocer not to sell it, help clean up the Sound.

As an observer, our volunteer was stunned at the amount of trash that was removed from the whale - and overwhelmed with sadness that human impact had, in any way, contributed to this whale’s demise. Please learn more about our polluted waters and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an oceanic swirling mass of plastic twice the size of Texas, on Seal Sitters’ website. Educate people about the dangers of pollution and its tragic impact on our wildlife now and for generations to come. Make a commitment that this magnificent whale’s life was not given in vain.

See news video here.
Read Lynda Mape’s excellent article in the Seattle Times.

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.

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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