Update: Harbor porpoise dies off Alki; biologists investigate

March 18, 2012 at 10:24 am | In West Seattle beaches, West Seattle news, Wildlife | 8 Comments

(Photos by WSB co-publisher Patrick Sand)
A sad procession on Alki less than an hour ago – but one that might ultimately yield some knowledge for the future: A dead harbor porpoise was taken away by biologist Dyanna Lambourn from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Mammal Investigations unit and biologist/stranding coordinator Jessie Huggins from Cascadia Research Collective. Also on hand at the beach this morning, Seal Sitters first responder Robin Lindsey, who got word of the porpoise’s death at mid-afternoon Saturday (the organization is part of a stranding network for all marine mammals, not just seals), and Seal Sitters volunteers David and Eilene Hutchinson. So far we know the porpoise was an adult female, but the cause of her death was not obvious and will require further investigation.

As the biologists (in the photo with camera-wielding Robin) explained to curious passersby, harbor porpoises are not rare and not endangered (read more about them here), but the biologists say they seldom wash up like this – most often, they die at sea and “just disappear.” On the Seal Sitters’ “blubberblog” site, Robin tells the story of the elaborate operation carried out last night to secure the porpoise until it could be picked up this morning; as she writes, it died further east along the Alki shore, and was moved to the spot where we photographed her and the biologists this morning (near the 53rd Avenue Pump Station section of beach). The porpoise is now being taken to a facility in the South Sound.

3:47 PM UPDATE: Robin has updated her report, but the necropsy results aren’t in yet – look for another update (there and here) when they are.

11:03 PM UPDATE: Robin at Seal Sitters has updated her report again with those results. Biologists say the porpoise had a serious lung infection. Full details added at the bottom of her story.

8 Comments

  1. Will be interesting to find out about this harbor porpoise overall health before death and what she died of/from. Another rare opportunity for necropsy of one of the beautiful animals we co-exist in this region. Thanks to all who watched out for her.

    Comment by seewhatsealionsstart — 10:44 am March 18, 2012 #

  2. I didn’t think we had them down here?? I thought they were mostly found up around B.C.

    Comment by Westside J. — 12:31 pm March 18, 2012 #

  3. WJ – Not as commonly seen around here, the biologists said, but they do show up. Looking up some background, I found that there was an unusual die-off in Northwest waters six years ago – but overall, as said this morning, the strandings aren’t witnessed often .. http://www.cascadiaresearch.org/Strandings.htm (an overall list of many marine mammal strandings, including the 2006 harbor-porpoise problems) … TR

    Comment by WSB — 12:37 pm March 18, 2012 #

  4. My friend and I saw the porpose making a deliberate swim to the rocks. She was trying to get on the rocks. If anyone is interested I will give further details. We flagged down a police officer who made the call to the appropriate agency.
    C. Morgan

    Comment by C. Morgan — 7:33 pm March 18, 2012 #

  5. Over the last couple of years, I see them fairly regulary in Puget Sound, with some seasons showing more of an abundance. In later spring large pods can begin to show up in the sound visible from places like Golden Gardens, mostly mid channel. Usually travel in groups of 2-6 but, more and more, larger pods (dozens) are making appearances. Large pods can also be seen quite regularly these days in the mid to upper part of Admiralty inlet. Pretty cool to see these bigger pods spread out in a wide swath foraging.

    Comment by seewhatsealionsstart — 8:14 pm March 18, 2012 #

  6. C,

    Could you please call our hotline @ 206-905-7325 tomorrow or at your convenience and leave your contact information. I would like to talk to you about the behavior you witnessed. Your insight into the stranding might be very helpful to the biologists. Thanks!

    Robin

    Comment by Robin — 9:42 pm March 18, 2012 #

  7. last week when we were diving off constellation park, we saw a harbor porpoise leaping and jumping and hopping in the vicinity of the west seattle fishing reef… far more active than i normally notice them to be. It was unusual enough to stop and watch… it was very windy and i thought maybe it was riding the whitecaps, but now I wonder…

    Comment by DiverLaura — 10:50 pm March 18, 2012 #

  8. Robin,

    I did call the number and left my contact information. Hope to hear from you soon.

    C.Morgan

    Comment by C. Morgan — 9:21 am March 19, 2012 #

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