Beached whale likely died of trauma

Published on Thu, Apr 30, 2009 by Tara Nelson

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Beached whale likely died of trauma

By Tara Nelson

Researchers investigating the death of a young gray whale that washed ashore this week say it likely died of acute trauma.

Mariann Carrasco, principal investigator for the volunteer Marine Mammal Stranding Network of Whatcom County, said the 107-foot long, 2-year-old gray whale that washed ashore Monday near Point Whitehorn likely died a sudden death by acute trauma rather than by old age, starvation or disease.

“Most of the whales we find die of natural causes such as older age or starvation,” she said. “It’s unusual to find such a young one that was clearly in good health. So this situation is a bit of an anomale.”

Carrasco said while there were a few small cuts on the whales tail – likely from a boat’s propellor – they were not life-threatening and could have occurred after it died.

She added that crews will determine whether the whale had signs of hemorrhaging, an indication of damage caused by high frequency sonar used by the U.S. Navy.

“I know their latest testing area included Haro Strait where all the whales go, but we don’t know if that’s the case and we may never know,” she said.

A necropsy will be performed by the Cascadia Research Collective and results should be available in a few weeks, she said.

Carrasco said about a half-dozen whales typically die in Washington state each year but that it was unusual for a young and healthy whale to wash ashore. Another dead gray whale was found floating near Camano Island on Sunday, but those incidents appear to be unrelated, Carrasco said.

The Marine Mammal Stranding Network of Whatcom County is looking for volunteers and will host a free training workshop on Saturday, May 16 for those who are interested. For more information, visit www.wmmsn.org.