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Studies continue on dead whale

A dead gray whale that washed up April 18 near Sandy Point south of Langley was emaciated and had evidence of blunt force trauma, possibly from a vessel, on one side.

Cascadia Research issued a press release on its initial necropsy report Friday morning. Olympia-based Cascadia Research studies gray whales in Puget Sound and towed the whale to a remote area of Camano Island April 19 to conduct the necropsy.

In addition to Cascadia scientists, biologists and veterinarians with National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and a pathologist with the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Food were present. Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Orca Network and the Whale Museum also provided support. Only preliminary results of the external examination were available Friday. Scientists collected many tissues for testing for contaminants, disease and pathology. Results from those tests may not be available for several weeks.

The whale was a 25-feet male gray whale and based on size is a slightly under-sized yearling. Its birth was estimated to be sometime in January 2004.

“Girth measurements were below normal for an animal of this size and combined with the dry-looking blubber indicated the animal was thin and probably not in great nutritional condition at the time of death,” the press release noted. Scientists put the whale’s weight at approximately 7,700 pounds.

Cascadia Research maintains a photograph collection of gray whales in the area. Identification photographs of the stranded whale do not appear to be the same younger whale seen earlier near Bremerton.

This is the first confirmed stranding of a gray whale this year in Washington. Every year from 1 to 28 gray whales wash up dead in Washington. Since 2000, mortality has been low. This is the first gray whale death this year.

Each spring, a regular group of gray whales return the waters around Whidbey Island to feed primarily on ghost shrimp. The same animals return each year. Some of the animals currently in the Whidbey Island area have been seen almost every year since the early 1990s. Toward the end of the examination, a live whale swam by. It was a whale named Patch which has been seen in this area since 1991.

Currently there are at least six gray whales in the Whidbey Island area, at least two in southern and central Puget Sound, and one in Hood Canal.  Additionally, gray whales continue to migrate past the Washington coast.

More information on gray whales is available on the Cascadia Research Web site (www.cascadiaresearch.org).

Orca Network in Greenbank maintains a whale sighting network which tracks the travels of gray whales, orcas and other cetaceans in Washington and British Columbia waters. If you see a whale, report it to Orca Network at 1-866-ORCANET or info@orcanetwork.org, and to Cascadia Research at 1-800-747-7329. To join Orca Network’s Whale Sighting Network go to orcanetwork.org.

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