Examination of dead humpback whale – Bremerton, 4 June 2016

An examination of the humpback  whale that was found dead Wednesday morning (1 June 2016) at the Navy Shipyard in Bremerton was conducted on 4 June by Cascadia Research Collective, WDFW, and NOAA (with assistance from MAST and the Navy). The examination did not reveal a clear cause of death to this subadult female that measured almost 35 feet long. It appears the whale became trapped underneath a Navy dock sometime between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning but was already dead by the time it was first spotted and reported around 1000 on Wednesday. The blubber condition was fair but there were some indications of nutritional stress though this may have been related to the time of year since humpback whales generally fast most of the winter. There were food remains in the intestines and colon indicating the whale had been feeding recently on fish as well as possibly krill and these suggest the cause of death was more sudden and acute. There was bruising at multiple locations consistent with it struggling after become trapped but these did not seem extensive enough to kill the animal. The exam could not rule out drowning related to becoming trapped under the dock. While not all tissues could be accessed and collected, additional tests will be conducted on some of the tissues that could be collected and these could provide additional insight into the cause of death.

In recent years humpback whales have been returning in larger numbers and throughout the year to the Salish Sea including Puget Sound. They used to be common to the waters over a 100 years ago but then commercial whaling wiped them out including a short period where whaling station operated through the winter for several years specifically targeting the humpback whales in the Salish Sea and not just those off the coast. Sightings of humpback whales in the Salish Sea have been become more common in the last 5 years including recent sightings of several whales in southern and central Puget Sound in recent days and weeks.

Photos below show the location the whale was discovered on 1 June and then the examination underway on 4 June at a location on Navy property.