Garbage gut: Dead gray whale washes up in Puget Sound
Seemingly healthy gray whale found dead on West Seattle beach just one of several recent, unusual deaths.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - 01:10
STUDIES BEGIN: Scientists gather to learn what caused the death of this healthy-appearing gray whale. (Photo: Courtesy Cascadia Research)
You might think that all that's happening in Washington these days is about whales. That's not exactly true, but this story of the young male gray whale that washed up on the beach in West Seattle is so alarming and sad that I couldn't help but write about it.
The story goes that two weeks ago, a near-adult male gray whale was found stranded on a beach in West Seattle. The death was sort of unusual because the whale appeared to be in better nutritional condition than other gray whales found dead recently in Puget Sound. According to Cascadia Research, starvation was not a factor in its death.
The startling news came when the necropsy was started. It was clear that the whale had been feeding in an industrial habitat because of the contents found in its stomach. Scientists at Cascadia found over 50 gallons of material in the whale's stomach, including: duct tape, a sock, a leg of a pair of sweatpants, fishing line, a golf ball, over 40 plastic bags, a nylon braided rope and a surgical glove.
Gray whales are filter feeders that suck in sediment in shallow waters then filter the contents to ingest the small organisms that live there. It's not unusual for rocks and debris to get ingested at the same time. While garbage has been found in other dead whales in Puget Sound, the volume found in this particular whale is greater than ever found before.
The whale also had cuts on its head from what may have been a boat propeller. It's not known for sure if that's what caused the animal's death. Samples have been taken from the whale, but results won't be known for maybe weeks or months.
According to Cascadia Research reports, this is the fifth gray whale to have died in Washington waters this year and the fourth one in Puget Sound in the last few weeks. Three of those four whales appeared emaciated. Changes in Alaskan waters last year may have contributed to the whales not getting enough to eat before their migration to Mexico last fall.
Photo: Courtesy Cascadia Research