SEAVIEW — A dead adult gray whale washed ashore north of the Seaview beach approach over the weekend, causing a crowd of curious onlookers and generating a response from several agencies seeking to determine a cause of death for the 39-foot animal.
Although sad for the individual animal, in a sense the death is a mark of good news. Far fewer whales have come ashore in the Pacific Northwest so far this year compared to 2019.
Cascadia Research Collective Stranding Coordinator Jessie Huggins performed a necropsy alongside Portland State University Research Assistant Dalin D’Alessandro and Tiffany Boothe from the Seaside Aquarium around low tide Monday morning.
Huggins was hopeful organ samples taken from the carcass could eventually provide insight into the cause of death.
“It does show signs of malnutrition based on some dry blubber that’s been discolored orange that we saw in some whales last year. We’re going to be digging for more organ samples that we can send out for analysis to see if there’s anything else that comes up,” Huggins said.
“It was originally reported entangled but the gear was missing by the time we got here. It doesn’t look like the entanglement caused the mortality.”
Approximately a dozen onlookers flanked the whale as the trio worked to cut through several inches of blubber to reach the internal organs. Unseasonably high temperatures reaching the 80s on Saturday and Sunday exacerbated the smelly job.
“It’s in moderate decomposition. It’s not as fresh as we would like it to be for samples,” Huggins said.
The whale’s death was likely part of an ongoing trend that started last year but seems to be trailing off, Huggins explained.
“We’re still in an unusual mortality event that started last year for gray whales, but we’ve had much lower numbers so far this year than we did last year,” she said. “Last year, we had 34 whales total in our primary stranding season between April and June. This is the fifth whale so far this this year, so we’re much slower than we were last year. We’re a little bit higher than our normal range for this time of the year but much closer to what we normally see.”