Fin whale at Seahurst Park: Researchers’ update; Seal Sitters’ assistance; more photos

April 14, 2013 at 9:40 am | In West Seattle news, Wildlife | 22 Comments

(Saturday photos by Nick Adams for WSB, unless otherwise credited)
Dead or alive, an endangered fin whale is a rare sight in Puget Sound. So the one that turned up dead at Seahurst Park in Burien on Saturday (here’s our previous report) was something Jesavel Garcia said she would tell her grandchildren about – the reason why she took a self-portrait with the whale in the background. She had company:

And for researchers, it was quite a sight as well:

Up close, you could see its baleen:

(Photo by David Hutchinson)
That photo is courtesy of David Hutchinson, who was one of the volunteers from West Seattle-based Seal Sitters who went to the scene; Robin Lindsey has written about it on the group’s Blubberblog site. More photos and information ahead – including troubled waters for funding of response and research in cases like this:

As mentioned in our Saturday report, today marks exactly three years to the day since a similar scene started unfolding on the beach in West Seattle’s southwesternmost neighborhood, The Arroyos, after a gray whale died offshore. This is just a few miles south:

A situation like this is known technically as a stranding, whether the animal lives or dies. Like the gray-whale stranding in 2010, this one also is being investigated by Cascadia Research (its preliminary report is here), which made the early determination that it died because it was hit by a ship, and that what turned up at Seahurst was only part of a fin whale that when alive had been up to 65 feet long – that’s as long as a six-story building is tall; here’s some hint at the scale of the 52-foot section found at Seahurst:

They are the second largest creatures in the sea; this is the 10th one stranded in Washington in the past 11 years, according to the Cascadia site, and ship strikes are blamed for eight of those deaths.

Despite the tragedy of the scene, the majesty remained. Touching one of the whale’s fins, Christina Pfeiffer told Nick, “We were really interested in coming to see it, we love whales and are nursing students.”

The whale had died up to a week earlier, according to the Cascadia Research report. As noted in that report and Robin Lindsey’s Seal Sitters writeup, responders also came from the federally funded stranding-network program – and Robin had reported just Friday that the proposed federal budget eliminates that funding. If you are concerned, the time to contact Congress is now.

In Robin’s Saturday night report, she also mentioned steps that can be taken to lessen the chance of ship strikes – something noted in this video shared on the WSB Facebook page by Peter Han:

We will be following up today on what will happen next; you might recall that the 2010 gray whale in The Arroyos eventually was towed to a remote beach where it was left to decompose until its bones remained, and they are on display at the Highline College MAST center in Redondo (here’s our report on the exhibit’s opening).

22 Comments

  1. What a very sad sight! We can see the whale through binoculars from our deck. We plan to walk down the beach today to pay our respects to the majestic creature that lost it’s life for whatever reason. Yesterday was a very odd weather day, the colors of the water and sky’s were very bright and grey at the same time. Mother Nature paying her tribute I suppose!

    Comment by Seoladweller — 10:20 am April 14, 2013 #

  2. So tragic, what an amazing animal.

    Comment by WSgal — 10:48 am April 14, 2013 #

  3. Sometimes old age catchs up and it is just time to go. This is sad. God bless our large friend.

    Comment by boy — 1:02 pm April 14, 2013 #

  4. so sad but I think I will be one of the lookey looes today too

    Comment by Polly Aldrich — 1:04 pm April 14, 2013 #

  5. Just to let everyone know that it is illegal to touch a whale (even a dead whale) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Those of you getting your cheeky Facebook profile shots may want to reconsider! Not to mention the various diseases/bacteria any that whale may be carrying!!

    Comment by dizzle — 1:38 pm April 14, 2013 #

  6. This whale did not die of old age. It was struck by a large ship.

    Comment by Um — 1:40 pm April 14, 2013 #

  7. It wasn’t “old age” that caught up to large friend, it was a ship that plowed into him/her and brought the carcus into Puget Sound. Sad. One wonders how many other whales meet the same fate.

    Comment by Fredricofthesea — 2:08 pm April 14, 2013 #

  8. Boy, the reports say the whale was hit by a ship, not that it died of old age. So it’s even sadder.

    Comment by Sonoma — 3:03 pm April 14, 2013 #

  9. Dizzle, that’s interesting. It didn’t bother me to see children gently touch it as they looked inside the mouth. What DID bother me was that a couple people were screwing with it, one idiot took his coffee cup and was poking it’s blubber and laughing. Grossed me out, and just seemed so callous! Most people were respecting it though, I thought.

    Comment by Traci — 3:54 pm April 14, 2013 #

  10. Seal Sitters emailed us with the warning to NOT touch the whale – disease risk.

    Comment by WSB — 5:33 pm April 14, 2013 #

  11. Sad.

    Comment by Rod — 5:48 pm April 14, 2013 #

  12. This Fin Whale, I hate to say, was hunted and harvested for meat, oil, and blubber. If you look up an actual picture of a Fin, you will see the dorsal fin is not that close to the tail. It also has a normal tail as typical with whales, sharks and dolphins. This is a great tragedy and the carcass was probably dragged here by a ship after the remains were tossed overboard.

    Comment by Mike K.--Burien, WA — 5:50 pm April 14, 2013 #

  13. Wow. That girl is taking a selfie in front of a dead whale. #Instafamous!

    Comment by Coley — 7:29 pm April 14, 2013 #

  14. Omg..people hunt and harvest?dear god,what is this world coming too?

    Comment by Get Real — 7:52 pm April 14, 2013 #

  15. Any idea how long the whale will be on the beach? And does the tide need to be out to see it? Do we know if it is male or female?

    Comment by Ann — 8:11 pm April 14, 2013 #

  16. ummmmmmmmmm, I think the Native Americans have been hunting and harvesting whales for centuries……..

    Comment by West Seattle Hipster — 8:59 pm April 14, 2013 #

  17. If you want to see what most likely happened to this poor whale, just do a google search on “dead whale on bow of ship”, and look at the images. Unfortunately it happens often.

    Comment by gatewooder — 10:14 pm April 14, 2013 #

  18. Mike k.
    The whales peduncle and tail were not with her/him when it stranded and the bottom half of it’s body was evicerated. Approximately 13 feet of it’s body was sheared off. Respected researchers/biologists with decades of experience examined the whale and I saw it myself today. It was not hunted or any of the other things you say.

    Comment by seewhatsealionsstart — 11:23 pm April 14, 2013 #

  19. As a sailor, I am saddened to see such a creature perish, but I would like to see an unbiased report in regards to the cause of death.

    I read the accompanying preliminary report from Cascadia Research and feel it’s choice of language to be biased. A little fact checking found that Cascadia Research is a non-profit dedicated to researching and protecting marine mammals. By stating that the whale was hit by a ship, they gain public opinion to their noble cause.

    Please publish the reports from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and/or any other unbiased researchers.

    Thank you

    Comment by Nick E. — 7:43 am April 15, 2013 #

  20. @Nick E – what, specifically, in Cascadia’s report was “biased”? The whale had significant bruising on one side and red paint on its skin.

    I’d sure love to hear any other theories that fit the evidence. Maybe your suggestion is someone threw a living fin whale out of a 747 from 20000′, and it happened to land on the top of ship carrying gallons of red paint? And the only reason we don’t publish reports about people lobbing fin whales from airplanes is because some non-profit whale hugging organization won’t get funding?

    Comment by Dave — 10:44 am April 15, 2013 #

  21. My goodness. I can’t believe that half the people commenting don’t read the article before posting (it didn’t die of old age…only about half the whale was there so blathering about its dorsal fin in regard to its tail is hooey…) and that another percentage think that stating the whale died by being struck by a ship is an outrageous thing to say despite the evidence because clearly Somebody Is Promoting a Cause. (Gosh, it’d be interesting to see what such people have to say when a pedestrian is hit by a car…”Oh, no, they weren’t, that’s just an accusation by people lobbying for government interference in how we use our roads…” Jeez!).

    Whales don’t otherwise, as Dave notes, wash up on shores with half the body missing, and with bruising and red paint on what’s left. Unless you think the poor creature was involved in some large cetacean fraternity hazing gone wrong.

    No matter what happened, it’s simply sad to see a life come to an end, and when it’s a huge animal like a whale, the arrest of life and motion is on such a huge scale it can’t fail to have an emotional wallop.

    Comment by Grackle Bird — 9:23 pm April 15, 2013 #

  22. Unless the unfortunate creature was slashed with a very sharp knife, I’d have to say that some sort of mechanical blade produced several parallel slits on its body. I hope no one did this on purpose.

    I am surprised to see that no one wants the skeleton or skull, but I would prefer to see it taken back out to sea if possible. I’m sure someone could figure out a location where it wouldn’t float back in to shore.

    Comment by Barb — 5:43 am April 16, 2013 #

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