Humpback whale examination (6 October 2006)

Prepared by Cascadia Research, Olympia, WA

An examination was conducted 6 October 2006 of a dead adult female humpback whale that washed ashore on the Long Beach Peninsula. The examination did not reveal the cause of death but additional tests will be conducted of the tissues collected. The whale was first spotted floating off the Long Beach Peninsula on the morning of 4 October 2006 by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Service biologists conducting an aerial survey and it washed up later that day. A little over a dozen scientists and students conducted the examination from a number of institutions including Cascadia Research, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service and Washington State Parks assisted by some students and faculty from Portland State University and the University of Puget Sound.

The whale was 15.3 m long (50 feet) and was a mature adult female. It was difficult to determine how long the whale had been dead but it was likely at least a few days. The internal organs had begun decomposing and so the whale was very bloated. A variety of samples were collected during the examination and will be tested in future weeks. Washington State Parks is coordinating disposal of the whale, which will be buried in coming days.

Individual humpback whales can be identified by the natural markings on the underside of their flukes. Cascadia Research tracks more than 1,600 humpback whales that feed along the US West Coast based on these natural markings butt this whale did not match any of the known individuals Cascadia has catalogued.

Humpback whales remain endangered from whaling that continued through 1966 (including in the US) but appear to have been recovering since then. We estimate about 1,500 humpback whales feed off the west coast of the US including about 200 off the Washington coast. These animals come to these productive waters to feed from spring to fall. In the winter they migrate to warm water breeding and calving areas. Humpback whales from the Washington coast have been documented going to Mexico, Central America, and Hawaii.

Two other strandings of humpback whales have occurred in Washington in the last 10 years both of them along the Washington Coast. Strandings of other large whales particularly gray whales are more common. Because humpback whales feed farther offshore (generally 10-20 miles) many of the animals that die do not end up washing ashore and either decompose or sink at sea.

Photographs during examination on 6 October 2006. Photo credit: Dominique Camacho, Cascadia Research.

Dead humpback on beach and research team preparing for examination.

Researchers examine dead humpback whale on beach

Researchers necropsy humpback whale on beach.