Update: New information about dead gray whale in The Arroyos

April 15, 2010 at 10:35 am | In West Seattle news, Wildlife | 57 Comments

(scroll down for the latest photo/info/video)

We’re back on Arroyo Beach in far south West Seattle right now, along with TV crews, watchful neighbors, and whale experts (plus one news chopper overhead). Jeff Hogan tells us that the gray that beached and died here yesterday afternoon is a female, about 30 feet long, “sub-adult,” and emaciated. NOAA has reps here too and will try at high tide to tow it away so it can be necropsied elsewhere, but if that’s not possible, they may have to do a “limited necropsy” here. NOAA tells us the number of gray whale deaths hasn’t risen to an alarming level yet; this one may be the first found dead in West Seattle waters since 1999 (here’s an article we found about what was happening that year). Here’s a wider view of what’s happening here, looking toward Vashon from our spot beneath a residential bulkhead:

The tide is still receding, with low tide at noon, so nothing’s going to change here for some hours. The whale is cordoned off with a yellow-tape perimeter. We did a video walkaround before that tape went all the way up and will add that shortly. We asked Hogan if there is any way to tell if this (or any of the others that died recently) is the one that West Seattleites watched a few weeks ago – he said photographs would have to be used to make the comparison. 11:32 AM: An impromptu field trip from Westside School just dropped by and drew immediate TV attention:

The rain is falling more steadily now. Again, nothing major is expected to happen here until the tide’s in later – high tide isn’t until 7:15 this evening. ADDED 1:44 PM: Finally able to upload the video walkaround we mentioned earlier:

Here are our previous stories:
-First report from the beach, shortly after the whale died
-Nighttime look after the tide went out
Perhaps the most amazing sight is the whale’s baleen (what’s in their jaws to filter food out of muddy shallows) – a photo shared with us by “D” has a clearer look – click ahead (ALSO AHEAD, LATEST UPDATES):

3:13 PM: Nearby resident Scott, whose wife rolled video on what turned out to be the whale’s final moments of life yesterday afternoon, says NOAA is indeed planning to be back out in a few hours to try to float the whale off the beach at high tide (7 pm).

7:10 PM: Here’s all you could see at the scene a short time ago as high tide approached:

We’ve posted a new report with an update.

57 Comments

  1. Wow

    Comment by LMA — 11:03 am April 15, 2010 #

  2. Awww. Damn. I hate it when this happens. I know it’s part of the cycle of life, but still. :(

    Comment by Lachlan — 11:16 am April 15, 2010 #

  3. So sad; she’s beautiful.

    Comment by GenHillOne — 11:21 am April 15, 2010 #

  4. What is happening is out of the balanced circle of life. These creatures are starving to death due to our over harvesting more then what can be replaced, overloading their world with toxins, and living like we are the only species that matters. This is not a normal. As the climate starts really ramping up we are going to see massive die offs. We will fish the waters to extinction to keep our pets eating canned tuna….
    This news combined with the new plastic trash island found in the Atlantic is so sad.

    Comment by picot — 11:35 am April 15, 2010 #

  5. could this be the whale that the orcas attacked?

    Comment by darlene — 12:05 pm April 15, 2010 #

  6. very sad. that first photo is absolutely heartbreaking–and wonderful at the same time.

    Comment by bridge to somewhere — 12:31 pm April 15, 2010 #

  7. My heart breaks for her. It would be wonderful if Duwammish tribal members could perform some sort of ceremony for her. I am fairly certain this is not Patch. I believe Patch is a “he” and much older & bigger. He also stays around Whidbey & Camano Islands. He has been seen and seems to be o.k. since being roughed up by some transient orcas.

    Comment by Lori — 12:39 pm April 15, 2010 #

  8. How can we get down to see it?

    Comment by alki resident — 12:48 pm April 15, 2010 #

  9. after readding about this on the west seattle blog i put my son in the car and drove there asap and didnt realize that there isnt really a way to get to the beach since it is all lined with private homes… as I was getting out of my car I was approached by a man who said “dont think of going on my friends lawn!” and point to one house… a stranger overheard this and point to the neighbors house and said”she’s pretty cool, just walk on her lawn….” I know how I may feel violated having all of King Country, camera crew etc walking on my private property so I decided to knock on the “cool lady’s”" door and ask… and they were right.. she was VERY cool… I apoplogize that I forget her name, she was so cool that she introduced herself!!! but anyways.. we (my son and I ) did see the awe of nature first hand and like everyone else , we are curious why this beautiful creature died but if “cool lady” is reading this.. TAHNK YOU again for letting me and my son walk on your lawn to see a grey whale up close and personal… something you just cant see every day…!! : )

    Comment by Dawn — 12:59 pm April 15, 2010 #

  10. I also want to stress – and I should add to today’s story if it’s not there, that this is indeed private waterfront … the residents have been very gracious. We were the first media crew on the scene yesterday and a nice gentleman showed us where it was OK to park along the street and pointed us to a path between homes that he said we could use. There since have been visits from all four tv stations in multiple time slots and all three tv helicopters, so I can imagine it might be wearing a little thin, but again, we’ve met more of the people down there and they have been very kind – TR

    Comment by WSB — 1:06 pm April 15, 2010 #

  11. Way too early to assign a cause of demise.

    The “lack of fish” itself lacks a slight degree of credibility since gray whales aren’t fish eaters.

    There are now about one-fifth the number of gray whales on the West Coast than what there were before whaling and other species unfriendly acts were largely stopped. Little hard to imagine natural starvation, but maybe.

    Might be a form of a disease, might be toxins, might be natural causes … think cancer or swine flu in humans. Since most whales fail to get annual medical check-ups, it’s hard to chart an individual whale’s trend over time.

    Hope the real and knowledgeable scientists can move forward of possible causes.

    Comment by Robo — 1:17 pm April 15, 2010 #

  12. I wonder if this is the same grey whale that was attacked by those three orca’s the other day.

    Comment by imagek2 — 1:27 pm April 15, 2010 #

  13. I think it is somewhat difficult to really know at this point why this whale died. There is a great deal we don’t know about whales and about her in particular. For sure, emaciation is not a good sign.

    It is tough not to reflect that this is possilby a result of how very sick our oceans are. Overfishing, acidification, warming, the spread of anoxic zones (major ones right off of Oregon), toxics, plastics, and an inordinate amount of nitrogen fertilizer are all slowly destroying this essential ecosystem.

    I fear that the continued “growth” of human economies and our natural systems are not compatable. We should consider what other economic patterns are possible that do not devour our very home from under and around us.

    Comment by Bill Reiswig — 1:33 pm April 15, 2010 #

  14. The Orca Network – which tracks other whales too – has said this is NOT “Patch,” the nickname given the whale in the orca attack.

    Comment by WSB — 1:37 pm April 15, 2010 #

  15. Just to add my conjecture to the rest… Toxins seem like a particularly likely impact on gray whales. Since they eat off the ocean floor, they ingest not only waterborne toxins, but also sedimentary ones.

    I hope there will be an autopsy and some answers. I love whales and would hate to see their numbers recede from our waters or our planet.

    The cost of industrial pollution should be part of the cost of licensing in an industry. While those costs would certainly be passed onto the consumer, that’s the appropriate place to contain that cost/revenue stream rather than to have industry owners, the owners of the production of the pollution, be subsidized by government/taxpayers in general.

    The cost of cleaning something up should be built into the cost of producing it. That’s my 2 sense.

    Comment by Debbie — 2:10 pm April 15, 2010 #

  16. I just left the beach. The homeowners continue to be not merely gracious and kind, but welcomIng. She said “It’s a once in a lifetime” kind of thing.

    People were so moved when they saw her, as was I. Please support advocacy groups for the health of our precious Sound and the oceans beyond. These gentle giants, and so many other creatures, need our assist, regardless of the cause of her death. The ecosystems are undeniably compromised and we each need to contribute something to change the dismal
    trajectory we may be on.

    Just makes me so sad.

    Comment by d — 2:12 pm April 15, 2010 #

  17. It’s Bush’s fault.

    Comment by Smitty — 2:17 pm April 15, 2010 #

  18. Global warming is viewed as a likely cause. Warmer waters (and possibly toxins) kill amphipods, the main source of food for gray whales. Just Google “global warming gray whale” and you’ll see many search results from ocean scientists who discuss this issue.

    Comment by Chris — 2:18 pm April 15, 2010 #

  19. It’s all part of nature. Natives would have used her for her meat and blubber by now. Seems to me that we should do the same to help feed the poor. Or, raise money by selling rare whale meat to the rich. Of course, a little late for that now, since she has been sitting there for so long being “observed” by an “expert.”

    Comment by BUDDA — 2:33 pm April 15, 2010 #

  20. Sad, such a beautiful creature died, but why all the rush to lay the blame to favorite political causes. There is no reason to suspect environmental causes at this point. It is sad to read the comments of people that seize on everything as “proof” when anyone can figure out, the cause of death is unknown. Period.

    Comment by Ron — 2:35 pm April 15, 2010 #

  21. My Flickr set with more detailed images from this morning: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cjboffoli/sets/72157623862813330/

    Comment by cjboffoli — 2:44 pm April 15, 2010 #

  22. There are two “kinds” of gray whales that come into Puget Sound every year. One is a small group of whales that tend to hang around Saratoga Pass and eat there (“Patch,” the whale who was attacked by orcas but is apparently doing OK, is one of these.) The other “kind” are usually individuals who are already emaciated and possibly ill when they arrive.

    Gray whales spend their winters off of Baja California. While they are there, though, they typically don’t eat anything, just live off their blubber stores for several months. Then they come back up to the gulf of Alaska and spend the summers feeding. They don’t eat fish or plankton, they eat ghost shrimp (which I just read via Orca Network are considered a pest species by some oyster farmers, so may be treated with chemicals to kill them) and other critters that live in the sand and mud near the shorelines.

    It’s certainly reasonable to suspect that some of the whales that have come into Puget Sound and died have simply starved to death because they couldn’t make it all the way back to their normal feeding areas. It’s also not unlikely that, as they are using up their blubber, there are bioaccumulative toxins they have acquired from feeding in contaminated sediments that make their hungry, stressed-out bodies that much more vulnerable to infection, organ failure, etc. I also know of one skinny gray who parked itself off one of the San Juans a few summers ago, spent the summer feeding there, and was last seen looking healthy and heading back out to sea. Sometimes, maybe they just need a rest stop.

    I’m the last person to suggest that human development isn’t having a negative impact on marine ecosystems, but please, learn a little about the creatures you are talking about before jumping to conclusions about why they are dying. Personally, I think the fact that grays are coming to Puget Sound at all now is really amazing in and of itself. When I was a kid here 40 years ago, it just didn’t happen.

    Comment by herongrrrl — 2:45 pm April 15, 2010 #

  23. From Christopher’s photos – these, I believe, are the whale lice – when the gray that visited West Seattle a few weeks back showed an orange patch, one of the Orca Network folks (I believe) explained that’s what it was:
    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2739/4523760247_45aed15084_b.jpg

    Comment by WSB — 2:48 pm April 15, 2010 #

  24. Poor thing. I was wondering what that pink on the tail was – amazing photos, cjboffoli.
    Was there any speculation on the slash marks midsection? (Propellers? Teeth?)

    Comment by LatteRose — 3:09 pm April 15, 2010 #

  25. The whale died because there’s too many grey whales and not enough food. We should start hunting them again. They’re not endangered anymore, they are overpopulating.

    Comment by zorchdave — 3:13 pm April 15, 2010 #

  26. Wow indeed. What an amazing, albeit heartbreaking, event to witness on our WS shores. Thank you for sharing the story & the images!

    Comment by Cheryl — 3:20 pm April 15, 2010 #

  27. Aren’t scientists going test for cause of death before they haul her off into the ocean and necropsy her?

    Comment by Callie — 3:33 pm April 15, 2010 #

  28. Remember that dead whale that washed ashore in Oregon in the 1970′s and they decided to get rid of it by blowing it up with dynamite thinking that it would be blown into a fine mist but instead 200 pound chunks of blubber and whale rained down from the sky in all directions crushing a few cars?

    They should do that again here.

    Comment by Brian — 3:48 pm April 15, 2010 #

  29. Already had that discussion in one of yesterday’s stories, thank you. Not gonna happen.

    Comment by WSB — 3:55 pm April 15, 2010 #

  30. Images from today and video of her last moments last night are here – http://frijol.posterous.com

    Comment by Scott — 4:00 pm April 15, 2010 #

  31. This is going to stink really bad soon. I am concerned about my property values! Isn’t it bad enough we will sit in traffic for hours soon and the crime rate *seems* to be rising rapidly?
    .
    On a serious note – I pray for the whale’s family.

    On a real note – I hope this death is not due to pollution.

    Comment by HomeInWS — 4:45 pm April 15, 2010 #

  32. Callie – a “necropsy” is another word for “Autopsy” – where they (trained professionals) will do a bunch of tests and “go all CSI” on it. Beware that it won’t be pretty and there will be people that think that’s cruel too.

    Maybe they could truck the carcass up to the holefoods site in the Junction and turn it into a Trader Joe’s……

    Comment by Eddie — 4:59 pm April 15, 2010 #

  33. Gosh, would it be nice if we saw this kind of outpouring of sympathy for an infant murders by his/her mother’s “doctor”. Or for that matter an infant who suffered abuse at the hands of his/her addicted mother.

    Comment by rawdibob — 5:17 pm April 15, 2010 #

  34. I just left the scene about a half hour ago with my sons and was able to also go through the gracious woman’s lawn. If anyone knows her last name I would love it so I can send her something. By 4:00 you were only able to see a small part of the whale. I was fortunate enough to be there earlier though and got some great shots. I posted them on my preschool blog http://www.thecoveschool.com/blog

    Comment by Renee Metty — 6:11 pm April 15, 2010 #

  35. Some indian tribe already has their paws on it. As soon as they can, it’s whale steaks for everyone.

    Comment by OKCTHUNDERBABY — 6:31 pm April 15, 2010 #

  36. so so sad

    Comment by Noelle — 6:33 pm April 15, 2010 #

  37. Does anyone know if the whale is being moved tonight or tomorrow am?

    Comment by Wild Country — 7:21 pm April 15, 2010 #

  38. I’ve just posted a separate story atop the page. We just talked to NOAA.

    Comment by WSB — 7:38 pm April 15, 2010 #

  39. thanks for thhe coverage. I produce for Nat Geo, do you know of any HDV video that might be available for a doc I am producing?

    Comment by Wild Country — 7:43 pm April 15, 2010 #

  40. E-mail me at editor@westseattleblog.com and can tell you more – TR

    Comment by WSB — 7:44 pm April 15, 2010 #

  41. when i was a kid growing up on alki, we fished every weekend for salmon, and caught the “big” ones….dad would feed our family of 5 for a week at a time with our catch of the weekend. sometimes, the whales would come right up to our boat and “blow” at us…swim under the boat…it was so cool. we used to wait every year to watch them “pass” through west seattle. it was a sight to see. i only hope this whale isn’t showing us that they are all dying off….and i hope she didn’t suffer……….poor thing…..i hope this isn’t an omen of things to come.

    Comment by alkigirl — 8:25 pm April 15, 2010 #

  42. After reading about the possibility of sediment and toxicity I can’t help but think of the recent 40,000 gals of sewage at Lowman. ???? So sad to see her lifeless body there on our shores – beautiful creature.

    Comment by tr — 10:09 pm April 15, 2010 #

  43. What exactly constitutes a “Private Beach”? Where does the property line go to? Vashon Island? I’m so sorry for the whale but this isn’t Malibu Beach.

    Comment by Leroniusmonkfish — 11:38 pm April 15, 2010 #

  44. The homeowners own the beach and the tidelands, according to one who contacted us. However, there is some contention that even though that land is owned, there is a public right to access at least the water along it – I have read this twice now and my eyes are still swimming:
    http://www.onwatersports.com/discus/messages/14/230.html

    Comment by WSB — 11:57 pm April 15, 2010 #

  45. Thanks TR…I would always respect the homeowners property but question what exactly the rights are of beachcombers.

    Comment by Leroniusmonkfish — 1:19 am April 16, 2010 #

  46. I guess the homeowners that own the beach and tidelands should be responsible for the removal of this beautiful creature?

    Comment by Leroniusmonkfish — 1:30 am April 16, 2010 #

  47. Poor thing. I want to say goodbye to her. Such a sad thing. Please don’t drive your SUV down to videotape it!!!

    Comment by glocson — 2:26 am April 16, 2010 #

  48. Hey Callie,

    The necropsy will be how they try to determine the cause of death.

    Comment by Saul — 8:56 am April 16, 2010 #

  49. Has the whale been moved yet?

    Comment by Chuck — 9:50 am April 16, 2010 #

  50. We haven’t been back to the site yet today. I have a message out to the NOAA rep we spoke with last night, though – TR

    Comment by WSB — 10:03 am April 16, 2010 #

  51. Come and check out some great photos of the whale on my blog at http://williamdrumm.blogspot.com/

    Comment by Drumm Photography — 11:37 am April 16, 2010 #

  52. I am sitting here looking at the floats in the water knowing that the majestic creature many of us were privileged to see yesterday rests barely under the surface. As the apparently “cool lady” who welcomed everyone to the beach through our yard yesterday – let me just say it was my pleasure to share this experience with so many. The best way I know to honor the gift the universe chose to bring to this spot Wednesday evening, is to chose life – and to honor its painfully evident fragility by living worthy of this marvelous animal’s presence.

    Comment by Susan — 11:58 am April 16, 2010 #

  53. Susan, I’ve only been following this story via WSB and other local media, so was not amongst those that partook of your graciousness, by visiting in person. I must say though, that if there were a “Cool Person” of the year award, you would be my number vote.

    .

    I honestly can’t imagine even the most patient person (and I’m a fairly patient person myself) being able to put up with all of the activity going on in and through your yard, as well as your private beach area, and remaining as gracious and welcome as you have.

    .

    Mike

    Comment by miws — 2:06 pm April 16, 2010 #

  54. These images are so disturbing. I wish you wouldn’t post pictures of dead animals on the front page of your site. WSB, would you consider posting a warning and then a link to the pictures next time?

    Comment by alkira — 10:00 pm April 16, 2010 #

  55. Usually we would. I think this is maybe only the second dead animal we ever have shown (I recall a raccoon a year or two ago?) … A gray whale is a quite different thing, though, somehow, and I can’t really describe why, except that it was clear, having been out on the beach two days in a row, and taking in comments/notes here (and on Facebook/Twitter) that so many people were awed by the sight … beautiful even in death … a humbling sight to realize the full size and majesty of a creature we otherwise never would see in its entirety. I apologize that you and perhaps others (I haven’t heard from anyone else) were disturbed, though … TR

    Comment by WSB — 10:19 pm April 16, 2010 #

  56. Hello? Did they take the whale this morning?? Does anyone know?
    Kim

    Comment by kim — 11:34 am April 17, 2010 #

  57. Hi, we’ve had a full report atop the page for a couple hours now:
    http://westseattleblog.com/2010/04/update-whale-moving-operation-about-to-start-in-the-arroyos

    Comment by WSB — 11:53 am April 17, 2010 #

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