On 02 April 2022, biologists, veterinarians and volunteers from Cascadia Research, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network examined a 39 foot adult male gray whale that was found dead on Camano Island earlier in the week. Although the cause of death was unable to be definitively determined, the animal exhibited signs of malnutrition, which was likely a significant factor to its mortality. Collected tissues will be examined for other possible contributory factors.
Photo identification has determined that this individual was not part of the local “Sounders” group, and may have been a hungry whale that broke from the northbound migration searching for food. It did show signs of having recently fed on ghost shrimp, the main prey of the Sounders, but this may not have been enough to allow it to recover.
This whale represents the third gray whale stranding of 2022 in Washington state, and is part of an ongoing Unusual Mortality Event (UME) that began in 2019 and has involved over 500 stranded gray whales from Alaska to Mexico. The cause(s) of the UME are still being investigated but, like this animal, many have been malnourished, and samples from this animal will contribute to the investigative efforts. While the UME is still considered in effect, mortality since 2019 has generally been decreasing, but is not yet back to normal.