Marine mammal experts from throughout Puget Sound combined resources and expertise to determine why a yearling female humpback stranded on Anderson Island on Tuesday, March 28.
The 29.5 foot female humpback whale in an emaciated condition may be the same animal sighted a week earlier off Whidbey Island and Edmonds. The sighting was reported to Orca Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to whale conservation.
The whale was re-sighted on Sunday on the southeast side of Anderson Island where an angler filmed the animal at the surface of the water. The video was posted on the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve Facebook page and was brought to the attention of NOAA late Sunday evening.
Response personnel from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research (SR3) returned to the area the following morning to search for the animal but were unable to locate the whale. On Tuesday, the WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations unit was notified of a dead humpback whale on Anderson Island just west of Thompson Cove.
Personnel from WDFW, SR3, Cascadia Research Collective (CRC), and Marine Science and Technology Center at Highline College (MAST) coordinated a necropsy on Anderson Island on Wednesday, led by WDFW wildlife biologist Dyanna Lambourn.
"We believe this whale may have been the one spotted last week near Whidbey Island," said Lambourn. "It probably stranded on Monday night and died soon afterwards."
The initial necropsy found the animal to be extremely emaciated with no other obvious signs of an underlying disease. Tissue samples will be submitted for further analysis to determine if there were other factors involved in the whale's death.
"The stranding of humpback whales in Puget Sound is something we've only begun to see recently, and is likely the result of increased population numbers" said Kristin Wilkinson with NOAA Fisheries. "Since 2015 there have been four reported humpback whale strandings in Puget Sound."
The humpback whale will be used for educational purposes. The whale was towed to WDFW property on McNeil Island where the bones will be collected as the animal decomposes. The National Fish and Oyster Company was instrumental in towing the animal from Anderson Island.
Shot by Pete Topping on March 26 at Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve
For more information see:
Cascadia Research Collective: http://www.cascadiaresearch.org/washington-state-stranding-response/results-examination-dead-humpback-whale-southern-puget-sound
SR3 Sealife Response + Rehab + Research: https://www.sealifer3.org/
Humpback Whale Listing Information: