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Dead whale towed to Oak Harbor for examination

A Deception Pass Tours boat pulls the carcass of a 40-foot gray whale to Oak Harbor on Tuesday afternoon. - Photo by Eric Fogelin
A Deception Pass Tours boat pulls the carcass of a 40-foot gray whale to Oak Harbor on Tuesday afternoon.
— image credit: Photo by Eric Fogelin

The 40-foot male gray whale that had been floating dead around Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound the past three days was located Tuesday afternoon and towed to Oak Harbor for examination.

The whale, first spotted Sunday morning floating on its side off the northwest section of Camano Island, was found Tuesday off the southeast tip of Camano after drifting on the tide past Langley and Hat Island.

A boat donated by Deception Pass Tours of Oak Harbor, with twin 740-horsepower jet engines, pulled the whale carcass to a restricted area at Ponell Point at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The trip took about five hours, Howard Garrett of Orca Network, the local marine mammal tracking organization, said Wednesday morning. No tourists were aboard the vessel at the time, he added.

Garrett said a team was to arrive at the naval base about noon Wednesday to begin an examination of the carcass.

He said the team, overseen by Cascadia Research of Olympia, would inspect the mammal for trauma, take blubber samples, check for organ failure and look for toxins.

He said the examination should be completed by late afternoon Wednesday, and lab results should be available in a couple of weeks.

"Right now, we have no idea about the cause of death," Garrett said.

He said it is uncertain if the whale is one of the dozen or so that regularly visit Saratoga Passage during their migration from Mexico to Canada to feed on the abundant ghost shrimp in the area.

"If it isn't one of those, it would be a pretty typical occurrence for a gray whale to come in here and die, because it wouldn't know where the food is," Garrett said. "We'll just have to look at the stomach contents."

Garrett said examining a dead whale can be uncomfortable due to the intense smell caused by decomposition.

"You want to put lots of Mentholatum under your nose, and wear clothes you can dispose of," he said.

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