Whale may have been struck by a ship, exam indicates
May 1, 2009 · 3:41 PM
The gray whale that floated dead in Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound for three days may have been hit by a ship, an examination indicated.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network, the local mammal-tracking organization based in Greenbank, took part in the examination of the carcass in Oak Harbor on Wednesday.
He said internal hemorrhaging and the lack of decomposition indicated “a possible ship strike” that probably would have occurred within two days of the first sighting of the body off Camano Island early Sunday morning.
Garrett said he knew of no reports of whale-ship collisions in the area, “but they might not know if they hit something, and if they did, they might not say anything.”
He also ruled out starvation as an issue. There were earlier reports from Langley that pleasure boaters had been spotted harassing the gray whales near the shrimp feeding grounds, fueling speculation that the whales wouldn’t be able to eat.
“It had a full stomach,” Garrett said of the dead whale. “You could make a sandwich out of the ghost shrimp in there.”
He said samples collected during the examination will be analyzed at a lab, and toxicology results should be available in about two weeks.
Meanwhile, he said the whale’s remains will stay at the isolated restricted area on Ponell Point at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Researchers eventually will collect the skull and bones for display at the Deception Pass interpretive center, Garrett said.
He said the adult male gray was 41½ feet long and was at least three years old, and “almost certainly” wasn’t one of the 10 or 12 regulars who have visited Saratoga Passage the past few years, according to Orca Network documentation of the group.
“But it was eating pretty close by,” Garrett said. “I guess it had a bad-luck streak.”
The dead whale was finally located Tuesday morning off the southeast tip of Camano after drifting on the tide for three days as
TV crews in helicopters tracked it past Langley and Hat Island near Everett.
A boat donated by Deception Pass Tours of
Oak Harbor, with twin 740-horsepower jet engines, pulled the carcass to the Navy base on Tuesday.
An attempt off Langley on Monday afternoon by a crab-boat crew to tow the carcass had to be abandoned, because the whale was bigger than the boat, Garrett said.
Tuesday’s tour-boat trip took about five hours, he said. No tourists were aboard at the time.
Garrett said the examining team, overseen by Cascadia Research of Olympia, inspected the mammal for trauma, took blubber samples, checked for organ failure and looked for toxins.
Garrett said that examining a dead whale can be uncomfortable due to the intense smell caused by decomposition. He said this particular carcass “was like a balloon,” and researchers had to stand about 10 feet away during initial procedures.
“You want to put lots of Mentholatum under your nose, and wear clothes you can dispose of,” Garrett said.
Meanwhile, cause of death of a second gray whale is still to be determined, Garrett said.
The carcass of a gray 20 to 30 feet long, perhaps a yearling or a sub-adult, was found floating just south of Cherry Point off Gulf Road Beach north of Bellingham on Monday.
The whale, whose gender hadn’t been determined, had been secured to pilings while a stranding network team examined the remains.