Dead humpback whale in Strait de Juan de Fuca examined

Photo above is humback whale CRC-17497 floating near Seiku, Wa. Oct 3, 2020. Underwater footage was captured by Cascadia team on this day. Photo by: Ian Flynn-Thomas, Cascadia Research

Dead humpback whale in Strait de Juan de Fuca examined

A humpback whale reported floating dead in the Strait of Juan de Fuca last week was examined this past weekend.  It was determined to be a 35-foot subadult male with a known history, tagged in 2018 and showed evidence of trauma. The humpback whale, first reported floating in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on 27 September 2020, was relocated on 2 October, towed to a nearby land-based site for examination near Sekiu, Washington on the third and examined the following day (4 October). A team lead by Cascadia and aided by a number of organizations and veterinarians including the Marine Mammal Laboratory, Oregon State University, SR3, and the Fiero Marine Life Center conducted the examination.

Photo above showing tandem tow on Oct 4, 2020 with Cascadia vessel on the left with Ian Flynn-Thomas, and Jeff Harris in vessel on the right. Photo by: Kiirsten Flynn, Cascadia Research

The animal had been documented alive on 22 September 2020. It was a known individual to several research groups having been first identified in 2016 and seen repeatedly feeding in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was known by identification codes, MMX0094 and CRC-17497 (Cascadia) and local whale watch operators referred to the whale by the name Hawkeye. This individual had also been satellite tagged by Oregon State University in 2018, though the tag did not function for long.  

Photo of the fluke which is used for photo-identification of the whale. Photo by: Ian Flynn-Thomas

The cause of death of the whale could not positively be determined due to its advanced state of decomposition and the logistical constraints of the situation. However, it was determined that the whale had been in reasonable health prior to death and showed evidence of pre-mortem blunt force trauma to the head. The return of humpback whales to the Salish Sea and their increased use of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, an area of high and increasing vessel traffic coming and going from ports in Puget Sound and southern British Columbia, has made ship strikes of whales a growing concern on both sides of the border.

Necropsy team on shore October 4, 2020 working before high tide comes back in. Photo by Kiirsten Flynn, Cascadia Research