Gray whale sightings in southern Puget Sound

Cascadia has been tracking the movements of several gray whales sighted in recent weeks (the most recent the morning of 14 May 2018 near Olympia) in southern Puget Sound (see photos). There have been several indications this year may be a year with elevated gray whale mortality and potentially more whales being in poor body condition. These indications have included:

  1. A number of animals not previously seen in Puget Sound encountered in new areas including at least two in Southern Puget Sound that appeared in poor body condition.
  2. A higher rate of strandings of gray whales so far this year, with already five documented so far (most showing signs of nutritional stress). While this total is not unusual for an entire year, it is high given we are only part way through the year and the peak period of strandings that extends from April through June.
  3. Recent sightings of groups of gray whales in poor body condition aggregated in areas along the northern Washington coast.
  4. There have also been several gray whales entangled in gear this year that may or may not be related to the above findings.

While most gray whales (more than 20,000) migrate north past Washington in spring on route to their primary feeding grounds in Arctic waters, about a dozen typically feed in the Whidbey Island area (termed the Sounders) and about 200 are part of what is called the Pacific Coast Feeding Group that feed in Pacific Northwest waters through the summer and fall. There have been previous years of elevated gray whale mortality, most notably 1999 and 2000 when an Unusual Mortality Event results in thousands of gray whales dying along their range including about 25 each year in Washington State during those two years.

When observing whales from the water do not approach them and follow the federal guidelines outlined here. Please report any strandings of gray whales to NOAA’s strandings hotline 866-767-6114, any entangled whales to 877-SOS-WHAL. Sightings of live whales in Puget Sound are being tracked by Cascadia (1-800-747-7329).

Above photos taken May 4th, 2018

Above photos taken May 14th, 2018. All photos are of the same individual.