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End of a life

Chris Burlison, a caretaker at Sandy Point, reported a deceased juvenile grey whale had washed ashore Monday afternoon. Cascadia Research planned to do a necropsy of the whale Tuesday to determine how the whale died. - Jennifer Conway
Chris Burlison, a caretaker at Sandy Point, reported a deceased juvenile grey whale had washed ashore Monday afternoon. Cascadia Research planned to do a necropsy of the whale Tuesday to determine how the whale died.
— image credit: Jennifer Conway

Pinpointing how a young gray whale who washed up dead on Sandy Point Beach Monday will be a focus for area biologists this week.

Chris Burlison, a caretaker at the Sandy Point community, said he noticed the gray whale Monday afternoon from his residence in the Langley-area community. He first saw the animal when it was about 40 yards from shore. As the current carried it into the Sandy Point Pier around 2:30 p.m., he called the Whidbey-based Orca Network and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“I didn’t know what it was at first,” Burlison said.

On Monday afternoon, Susan Berta, a member of Orca Network, said her organization had not been able to identify the whale, nor its family pod. Berta said responders believed the whale was a juvenile and said it was emaciated and beginning to deteriorate.

“It was likely sick,” Berta said. “It looks like it’s been dead for several days.”

She said the Orca Network had received a few phone calls Saturday reporting that a whale near East Point had been floating on its side — something gray whales typically do when they feed. Because the whale was in deeper water, Berta said, feeding was not a likely explanation.

Another call on Monday morning from a resident in the Sandy Point area led Berta to believe the same whale, possibly dead for a few days, was in the area. She said shore observations are often inaccurate in determining whether a whale is alive because of wave motion.

Though Whidbey Island has a seasonal population of healthy gray whales, Berta said it is possible the whale was sick or too weak to make a full migration with the rest of its pod and had made its way in to shore to die.

According to Annie Douglas, a spokeswoman with Cascadia Research, biologists planned to remove the whale from the beach Tuesday. She said biologists had coincidentally been in the Whidbey Island area by boat Monday conducting research on whales in the area when they received the notice of the dead whale.

Responders to the scene tied the whale’s tail to a nearby piling to prevent it from getting stuck on the beach until they could remove it Tuesday. Cascadia Research biologists planned to pull it away to another beach in a secluded area to do a full necropsy on the animal to determine why it had died.

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