Another gray whale has died off the Washington coast. The animal was confirmed dead after stranding in the tidal areas of north Port Susan, east of Camano Island.
A spokesman from NOAA Fisheries says the adult male was found in a state of advanced decomposition and remains in shallow water for now. The cause of death is under investigation but is complicated by the state of the whale’s body.
“Typically, what we try and look for are signs of things like blunt force trauma, entanglements. ... We do look at nutritional condition when we can,” said Jessie Huggins, the stranding coordinator for Cascadia Research who handles most gray whale necropsies in the state.
Huggins says they were able to take a skin sample for genetic testing and to confirm the whale’s identity though photo identification.
The whale found in Port Susan was not known to the area but may have been attempting to join a special group called “Sounders” that feed on ghost shrimp in the tidelands around Whidbey Island. It was sighted alive a week ago.
“This is not one of the Sounders. So it is not one of the whales that traditionally uses that area to feed. It may just represent one of the stragglers from the migration,” Huggins said.
This is the fourth or fifth gray whale stranding reported in Washington so far this year – one earlier this year stranded in waters on the border between Washington and Oregon. Seven have been reported in California. Researchers say these numbers are high for this time of year; the migration continues through June.
An unusual mortality event that started in 2019 has led to the loss of more than 400 gray whales up and down the West Coast. Scientists say the entire population has declined by 24 percent since 2016.
After dropping to numbers near extinction in the 1950s, gray whales were removed from endangered status in 1994. NOAA Fisheries says the population now stands at an estimated 20,580 whales.
April is high season for seeing the whales in Washington, as they make their annual migration from Mexico to Alaska.