Whale calf died after getting tangled in crab lines

A dead whale calf was examined by researchers on May 4 after being towed to an island in the Columbia estuary.

CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT — An entangled gray whale calf died after being caught in crab pot lines, Olympia-based science group Cascadia Research Collective reported following a May 4 examination.

The whale, a 20’ 7” male born this calving season, was initially reported dead on Saturday morning, April 29, anchored in place half a mile off of the Seaview beach approach. On May 1, it was discovered the whale was entangled in apparent commercial crab pot gear, researchers said.

WDFW Enforcement and Marine Mammal Investigations, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, Cascadia Research Collective and SR3 responded May 2, and the whale was towed to a remote island inside the mouth of the Columbia River.

A necropsy on the island showed the whale’s at the age when mothers with calves migrate north from their winter breeding and calving grounds in Baja to feeding areas primarily in Arctic waters. This migration is often close to shore and through commercial crabbing grounds.

“The whale was entangled in numerous areas including through the mouth and showed bruising around these areas indicating it was alive when it became entangled [and] had died as a result of the entanglement,” researchers said. “The whale was in excellent body condition with a large and oily blubber layer and even fat reserves around the heart all indicating it had been in good health prior to experiencing a more sudden death. Many of the internal organs were decomposed likely as a result of rapid decomposition due to the insulating blubber layer.”

Incidences of whale entanglement have increased in recent years along the West Coast, most dramatically with humpback whales off California, and have been of growing concern, according to Cascadia Research. Authorities are currently on the lookout for another gray whale first spotted off California that has its head stuck in a metal framwork.

These incidents have prompted increased efforts to identify solutions as well as help disentangle whales when encountered still alive, the scientists said. Another threat to whales including gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) was highlighted by a boat strike on a well-known adult gray whale in Puget Sound, caught on video April 23. Fortunately, that whale survived though the full extent of its injuries are not yet known, researchers said.

There are an estimated 26,000 gray whales that migrate off the West Coast, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which calls their recovery “a great conservation success story. “ It was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994.

While the final examination was led by biologists with Cascadia Research, multiple organizations played key roles in the discovery, disentangling, towing, and examination of this whale including Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA, SR3, Portland State University, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Oregon State Police.

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