Olympia, WA (360-943-7325), updated on 28 July 2005
A young gray whale was found dead in southern Puget Sound
on 24 July and an exam completed on 26 July. This represents the 10th
gray whale stranding in Washington State this year. This report provides some of
the background and details of this stranding.
On 23 July 2005 a boater spotted a dead whale trapped in
pilings from an old dock north of Steilacoom in southern Puget Sound. The report
was initially called in to the Whale Museum that day and then relayed to
Cascadia Research who contacted the reporting party. John Calambokidis of
Cascadia Research examined the whale on 24 July 2005 and determined it was a
small juvenile gray whale. Permission was arranged on 25 July for moving the
whale to the shore near the dock and for an examination to be conducted there
the following day. The move was conducted by two of Cascadia’s rigid-hull
inflatable boats on 25 and 26 July 2005. The whale was wedged between pilings
and was hard to remove on initial attempts.
An examination of the whale was conducted on the beach
during the afternoon and evening of 26 July by biologists and veterinarians with
Cascadia Research, National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Only
preliminary results of the external examination are available at this time and
results from tests of tissues may not be available for several weeks.
The whale was a 6.6 m (22 feet) male gray whale and is the
smallest of the 10 gray whales that have stranded in Washington this year. Based
on size is likely a weaned calf born early this year. Gray whale calves are
typically born around January on their winter breeding grounds in Baja, Mexico
and usually wean from their mothers in August on their northern feeding grounds.
There have not been any reports of a mother and calf in southern Puget Sound.
The normal girth, blubber thickness, and presence of a high
level of oil in the blubber indicated this animal was not in poor nutritional
condition when it died, which is different from many of the other gray whale
strandings. The necropsy went extremely well, the degree of decomposition in
different tissues was highly variable but many organs were not heavily
decomposed indicating the animal had died not long before the initial report.
This means the animal either became trapped in the pilling while alive and died
as a result, or had died only shortly before drifting and becoming trapped. At
this point we suspect the animal became trapped while alive then died. There
were indications of fractures to both vertebra and ribs but these appeared to
have occurred after death. Because the animal was thin and results of other
tests are not available, it is possible other factors were involved as a cause
This is the 10th confirmed stranding of a gray whale this year in Washington State. Every year from 1 to 28 gray whales wash up dead in Washington State. The average has been a little over four a year, so this is above normal. It remains well under the more than 20 strandings that occurred in 1999 and 2000 when a major mortality event occurred all along the range of the gray whale from Mexico to Alaska. The gray whale population had been recovering from commercial whaling and had increased to over 20,000 animals by the late 1990s. The mortality event in 1999 and 2000 reduced that population down to an estimated 17,000. Since 2000, mortality has been low.
More information on gray whales is available on the Cascadia Research web site (www.cascadiaresearch.org). Contacts for additional information: John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research, 360-943-7325
Gray whale trapped in pilings prior to moving
Gray whale on beach prior to examination
Start of examination