Dead fin whale in Burien - 13 April 2013

A dead adult fin whale was reported floating on the morning of 13 April in Puget Sound off Burien and washed up later that morning at Seahurst Park. An examination was conducted by personnel with Cascadia Research, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and MAST Center of Highline Community College with coordination from National Marine Fisheries Science Center. Only about half the whale was present consisting of most of the forward part of the body but with the tail and most of the ventral portion missing and most of the organs and spine gone. The length of the portion of the whale present was 16.6m (52.5 feet), but we estimated the animal when intact was likely about 20m long (65.6 feet).

Examination revealed that the whale had been been hit by a ship. There were signs of major trauma and bruising that was most pronounced on the right side of the body. The bruising through the blubber layer indicated the animal was alive when struck. Condition of the carcass indicated it had died from a few days to a week earlier. Several areas of abrasion had what appeared to be red paint likely from the bow of the ship. It is thought that the blow of having been struck and possibly contact with propeller or being dragged at high speed pinned on the bow resulted in the eviscerated condition of the carcass. The location the whale was struck is not known; it could have been carried on the bow of the ship an extended distance as well as floated an unknown distance afterwards.

Ship strikes are a growing concern with several west coast species of whales particularly blue and fin whales (see our other research on ship strikes as well as past publications on previous fin whale ship strikes). This fin whale represents the 10th fin whale stranded in Washington since 2002. Ship strike has been indicated in 8 of these cases (including this one).