Examination of dead gray whale found floating in Saratoga Passage, Whidbey Island (April, 2012)
On the morning of 22 April 2012, a researcher from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory sighted a dead floating gray whale off the west side of Camano Island. The Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network (CPSMMN) arranged for the 37 foot subadult male to be towed to a secured location by Deception Pass Tours the same evening. An exam was conducted 23 April by biologists and volunteers from Cascadia Research, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the CPSMMSN.
The whale was in good body condition and fair-moderate postmortem condition. The blubber was oily and the whale had been recently feeding on some type of shrimp-like organisms, however, it also had a large amount of woody debris and algae in the stomach as well as some human debris, including pieces of rope, some flat spongy material, a golf ball, and some miscellaneous plastic pieces. The garbage in the stomach was minimal in comparison to the rest of the contents and was likely the result of feeding in an urban area. There were no signs of trauma or entanglement and no other significant findings to indicate cause of death. The skeleton will be cleaned and examined this week by volunteers from CPSMMSN and the skeleton will be transported to the Smithsonian Institution. Samples have been collected for a variety of analyses including histopathology, biotoxins, contaminants, and general diagnostics, and life history. Results could take several weeks or months and will hopefully provide insight into the death of this animal.
This is the third stranded gray whale in Washington so far this year and the first in inland waters. There are typically anywhere from 2-10 stranded gray whales per year in Washington; frequently occurring during the spring months when most of the gray whale population is migrating from their breeding grounds in Baja, Mexico to feeding grounds in the Bering Sea.
Photos from start of examination and stomach contents (Photo credit Cascadia Research):