SEATTLE (AP) — A gray whale carcass washed ashore on Bainbridge Island west of Seattle on Tuesday.
The whale appeared to be an adult and had been dead for a while, said Michael Milstein, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries West Coast region.
It was not immediately clear how this whale died, he told The Seattle Times. A team from the nonprofit Cascadia Research Collective took photos and samples of its skin and blubber Tuesday, Milstein said.
Researchers are trying to understand why so many gray whales have been found dead and stranded on beaches since spring 2019. More than 200 gray whales were stranded last year in an Unusual Mortality Event — about double the usual rate for a migration year — including 34 that stranded in Washington state waters alone, said John Calambokidis, senior researcher at the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia.
“Something has changed with their food supply in the Arctic in some way, but it’s not clear what that change is,” Milstein said.
The whale will be towed to south Puget Sound, by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
A large percentage of the whales that have stranded this year are thin. There are not as many stranded whales this year as last with 26 strandings so far coastwide, including five in Washington.
At this time last year approximately 55 gray whales had stranded coastwide, and by the end of the migration, 215 whales died from Mexico to Canada during the entire migration season.
A similar die-off occurred in 1999-2000. But the whales still are at healthy numbers.