Gray whale found dead in Bellingham Bay was older female not known from this region


A gray whale found dead floating in Bellingham Bay on 10 May and examined on 12 May was an older female in poor body condition. The gray whale, a 42-foot mature female, was first reported on 10 May in Bellingham Bay and was towed to a necropsy site on the same day by WDFW Enforcement. An examination was conducted by CRC, Whatcom County Marine Mammal Stranding Network (WCMMSN), and SR3 on 12 May. This whale showed signs of malnutrition, including thick but very dry blubber, and some bits of woody debris but no food in the stomach and intestines. This whale also had a skin condition we have not seen before in gray whales and this will be investigated further as samples are processed. The age of this animal was also unusual among stranded gray whales typically seen in this region. She was estimated to be over 35 years old based on reproductive scarring. Further efforts will be made in collaboration with WCMMSN to retrieve additional samples that may provide a more conclusive age assessment.

The unique markings on this whale were compared to a reference collection maintained by Cascadia Research and no match was found to any of the whales known to typically use Northern Puget Sound or the Pacific Northwest. This whale was definitely not the same individual that was struck by a boater in Puget Sound in late April; that whale was identified as one of the local resident whales seen since 1990 and she was sighted alive the same day as the examination of the dead whale (by Cascadia Research and SR3) and appeared to be healthy and feeding off Everett (see separate report).

Photographs (credit Cascadia Research) of examination of dead gray whale on 12 May 2017.