Seahurst whale: After 2 days of crowds, decision ahead on its fate

April 15, 2013 at 3:22 am | In Not WS but we're mentioning it anyway, West Seattle news, Wildlife | 30 Comments

(Photos by Nick Adams for WSB)
There may be a decision today on what will, or won’t, be done with the dead fin whale (an endangered species) that has drawn hundreds to the shore of Burien’s Seahurst Park the past two days. WSB contributing photojournalist Nick Adams returned to the beach on Sunday and shows us a scene of tributes and mourning as well as curiosity. Among those bringing flowers, 7-year-old Faith Hunter:

There was also the smelly reality of a multi-ton carcass, as Lucas Brooks noticed:

Some simply stood quietly to observe, and pay respects:

Fishing buddies Kyle Thope, right, and Corey Wiggins took a closeup look:

Ruby Rose (photo below) said she was gleaning information from the whale.

She told Nick, “I can receive information through my heart and my hands, and sometimes my third eye. … Whales are living libraries downloading information to me.” Others learned from the scene in a more conventional manner – Steve Knapp was there with his 7-year-old daughter Sera:

What looked like blood might instead have been red paint from whatever ship is suspected to have hit the whale:

That is one of few clues – the “strike” could have happened in Puget Sound, or perhaps hundreds of miles away in the open ocean:

Whatever happened, so many knew only that they might never again get a chance for a look at this type of endangered whale, second-largest in the sea. Some sat in contemplation, like Nastalja, left, and Trina:

Many used phones and/or cameras for a visual souvenir:

The crowd swarmed – many touching the whale, though experts warn against doing so:

Robin Lindsey of West Seattle-headquartered Seal Sitters, whose volunteers came to the scene though it’s south of their jurisdiction, asked us to share these words of warning:

Photos of people touching dead marine mammals is always a tremendous concern. Infectious diseases among marine mammals is on the rise, many of them zoonotic (meaning people and dogs can get them). Blood and fluid oozing from an animal is obviously potentially unsafe! Please, everyone admire and pay tribute to this majestic animal FROM A SAFE DISTANCE. Once again, this stresses the importance of having stranding networks who can respond to such incidents, educating people and keeping them safely away and investigate cause of death. The elimination of Federal funding from the 2014 budget will greatly impair research into emerging disease and studies of human impact on marine mammals. We strongly encourage everyone to please contact their congressional representatives and ask that John H. Prescott Grant funding be restored to the 2014 budget.

That’s explained further in this story Robin had published on the Seal Sitters’ Blubberblog just before the Seahurst stranding happened. Without researchers, so many lessons that might be learned from the loss of this animal might be missed. Its appearance alone bore fascination, such as its baleen:

And the lines that mark it ..

From the Sunday crowd, the tributes kept coming … and the curiosity:

Even other creatures were curious (though dog owners too should heed Robin’s warning, above):

But now there is one big question about this big creature: What will happen to it?

We’re told a decision could come as soon as today; we’ll update when new information is available. Meantime, the experts investigating the whale’s death continue their work, too; here again is the preliminary report that Cascadia Research Collective published Saturday. (Our previous reports are here [Saturday afternoon] and here [Saturday night].)

30 Comments

  1. I can’t believe people are climbing all over it and disrespecting it and taking pics of themselves with it. I hate to join the ranks of the Perpetually Personally Offended, but honestly. Do they have no sense, or just no respect?

    Comment by Kayleigh — 7:48 am April 15, 2013 #

  2. And downloading the whale’s personal libraries without permission! “I like swimming. I like krill. I am not scared of big ships – YEOWTCH that stung.. that is going to leave a mark…”

    Comment by SomeGuy — 8:26 am April 15, 2013 #

  3. i agree kayleigh, look and “respect” from a far…I saw a picture of a guy walking a little girl on it some other website. Disgusting, if you want to see a gorgeous animal and pay respects I am sorry that isnt how you do it. And I am surprised it is allowed.

    Comment by ca — 8:39 am April 15, 2013 #

  4. It does seem a bit…umseemly, doesn’t it? I can’t blame people for being fascinated–it’s not something one sees every day–but the circus around this creature does seem disrespectful.

    Comment by Halyn — 8:43 am April 15, 2013 #

  5. It does seem odd to bring your kids to look at a big dead thing. And this: “I can receive information through my heart and my hands, and sometimes my third eye. … Whales are living libraries downloading information to me.” Uhhh…sure. That hunk of decomposing meat is talking to you. I fear sometimes for the future of humanity.

    Comment by Trainspotter — 9:18 am April 15, 2013 #

  6. While I see nothing wrong with taking kids out to see the whale, I am glad I am not the only one who felt this got a little out of hand. My parents took us out to a beach once when a whale had washed ashore. We were studying ocean biology in my 4th grade class and I was fascinated by whales of all kinds. Before going, my parents did this whole circle of life talk (yes, Lion King had just come out), we stood a good distance back while my mom pointed out a few things, said a few words for the animals soul, and walked on. It was an amazing experience, but it had a level of purpose and gravity to it (I guess it is just the poking/prodding/walking on the poor dead thing part that gets me), sort of like when we would come across a fallen bird in our backyard, my dad would explain a few key biology points and then help us to quietly burry it.

    Comment by Thistle — 9:49 am April 15, 2013 #

  7. How about you not let your daughter climb on the dead whale. Cool thanx.

    Comment by jerkstore — 10:04 am April 15, 2013 #

  8. Ah, I’m so glad someone else said it. This made me sick. It would be a good scientific opportunity to be able to observe the whale (both kids and adults), and for information collection by scientists, but this seems so crass and disrespectful.

    Sorry if I sound dispectful myself, but I think it’s a little egocentric to think that this poor dead magnificent creature has chosen to revealed its secrets posthumously to some human.

    Thistle, your dad sounds like a champ!

    Comment by amalia — 10:06 am April 15, 2013 #

  9. I am glad I was not down there to witness these children walking on this poor dead animal, GOOD LORD people, do you really think that your child is entitled to do whatever the hell they want? Or are you just too lazy to disipline them NOT to do something? The kids may not understand but the parents should.

    They should close the beach so people can look from a far. Next we will have people bringing home souvenirs

    Comment by T Rex — 10:27 am April 15, 2013 #

  10. In addition to infectious diseases, I once read that our puget sound orca whales are so toxic (from bioaccumulation) that their carcasses get handled as biohazardous. Wouldn’t the same concern apply here? PCBs and DDT and heavy metals? Yikes.

    Comment by Gabby — 11:19 am April 15, 2013 #

  11. WDFW should have immediately secured the whale and surrounding beach. Is our state budget so gutted that we no longer have funds for basic responses like this?

    Comment by Gabby — 11:21 am April 15, 2013 #

  12. I’ve been reading the WSB daily for years (thx for the great coverage), and this is the first time I’ve felt the need to comment…The death of such a great creature is sad enough; to see people crowded around it, posing for photos with it, poking it, WALKING on it?!? It is a dead animal, NOT A PLAYGROUND! This is not a “tribute”, this is horrifically disrespectful. I’m disappointed and saddened by my neighbors today.

    Comment by kay — 11:34 am April 15, 2013 #

  13. Marine mammals are under federal jurisdiction. But the stranding networks (of which Seal Sitters is one, though their jurisdiction ends at Brace Point) involve volunteer help. And please note the information in this story (and our previous one) regarding the funding woes for what services ARE provided by the feds …

    Comment by WSB — 11:40 am April 15, 2013 #

  14. Guys – We will not publish name-calling comments. Ideally the scene would have been kept clear. It wasn’t. It is a great opportunity to educate people in case they encounter a situation like this again. That’s what the comment from Robin was intended for – education. Apparently it’s not widely known that it’s both risky and illegal to touch a dead marine mammal. Please help by making sure everyone you know knows this, for next time. P.S. By “tribute,” I was referring to those who left flowers and stood silently to look on. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 12:00 pm April 15, 2013 #

  15. Thistle, great story. I will try to remember to do this with my future children. What a great way for them to learn about life and how to respect.

    Comment by stephanie — 12:02 pm April 15, 2013 #

  16. I agree with T Rex. While I would be interested to see this species up close, if I were there and had been witness to people climbing on this magestic creature I would have probably embarassed my husband with my outburst of frustration.

    Thistle mentioned a teaching moment in life and the only thing many of these pictures show us teaching the next generation is a lack of respect.

    Comment by Elizagrace — 1:05 pm April 15, 2013 #

  17. Seeing the photo of the girl walking on it reminds me of a story from high school in Pullman, WA. Kids used to jump off the rocks into the Snake River. One day my friend’s brother jumped onto what he thought was a styrofoam cooler floating in the water. Turns out it was a cow carcass. He got his whole lower body stuck inside it. I wouldn’t be walking on decomposing animals if I were you.

    Comment by higgins — 1:21 pm April 15, 2013 #

  18. Higgins…. ewwwww. That mental image is not going anywhere anytime soon.

    Comment by Elizagrace — 2:51 pm April 15, 2013 #

  19. Taking pictures of or with the dead whale isn’t causing harm. Standing on it, awful! No different then your dog or grandfather dying. No obviously that whale doesnt personally mean something to you maybe, but your grandfather may not know the neighbor down the street… that neighbor isnt going to start walking across him once hes dead. Come on folks! Poking it with sticks isnt right either. Get some manners!

    Comment by mb — 3:17 pm April 15, 2013 #

  20. WDFW has placed a temporary fence around it during low tide. Still lots of folks that are curious and intrigued. Most just don’t know any better. I think it’s good exposure. It’s unfortunate that Burien Parks or WDFW didn’t take some time to answer questions and use it as a teaching moment. It’s one grand and majestic beast. In all my years as a biologist I’ve never had the chance to see a Fin. I’m glad I did take some time to admire what once was. It was worth it.

    Comment by Montanapup — 4:39 pm April 15, 2013 #

  21. @Montanapup and @Gabby
    Limited funding often results in having resources that are too thinly stretched to be able to provide the best response and educational measures. Many stranding groups (like Seal Sitters) depend greatly on volunteers and donations to operate. Other organizations also depend on federal funding to keep going.

    I would reiterate Robin’s comments and say that if marine stranding response efforts, education, and research are priorities for us and our community we should contact our representatives and ask that John H. Prescott Grant funding be restored to the 2014 budget to help keep these programs running.

    Comment by Jenelle — 5:08 pm April 15, 2013 #

  22. Walking on the dead whale is just unbelievable. People have no manners or sense. Is nothing sacred?

    Comment by Super Awesome — 5:21 pm April 15, 2013 #

  23. @ Jenelle I completely agree. I guess what I’m disappointed by is as WDFW was placing that fence around the carcass, a few words for a few minutes would have gone a long way in educating the public. And it didnt have to be a huge speech or lengthy monologue. Any of the agency individuals could have taken 5 minutes to be good stewards/educators with everyone present. That fence didnt take more than a half an hour to build. Having worked in the agency and been in the public eye in similar situations – a little bit of outreach goes a long way. It just takes a few minutes for the information to get passed along in a crowd like that and does make a difference. They either just didnt feel like it or perhaps didnt have the time or give a damn. It’s good PR – for the agency and ultimately for our sexy megaflora and megafauna.

    Comment by montanapup — 5:55 pm April 15, 2013 #

  24. We visited the whale twice this weekend. In addition to people climbing on the whale there were people removing its teeth and sections of its baleen as souveniors. The fence may not stop this but was probably not early enough.

    Comment by Seahurst Neighbor — 6:47 pm April 15, 2013 #

  25. I was likely at the beach at the same time as you, montanapup, as the fence went up soon after my young children and I were able to view the remains of the majestic creature.

    We were all touched deeply by the experience, as it will likely be our only encounter with a fin whale. During the time we were at the beach, I only witnessed one act I saw as inappropriate, but otherwise felt a strong sense of curiosity and community. I left feeling grateful the whale had washed up on a public beach — giving *everyone* with motivation the opportunity to see it and to learn more…and I wished, as montanapup said, an informed person shared a few words as the fence went up. Perhaps they thought, based on some of the acts described in these comments, their words would fall on deaf ears.

    To all the Seal Sitters, biologists, and other scientists and volunteers, know that our family is exceedingly grateful for your knowledge and actions. We will be researching whales in the upcoming weeks, and my children have been suggesting solutions to prevent future whale hits — my son wants to know why there aren’t “whale sensors” on every vessel, and my daughter proposed “something to lift the boats over the whales.”

    Comment by wsbliss — 5:48 am April 16, 2013 #

  26. May I suggest a solution to disposal? Oregon, long ago when faced with a similar disposal problem chose to use dynamite to disperse the carcass.
    The results were somewhat surprising, made for great entertainment if on wasn’t too close, and certainly dispersed the whale.
    There’s got to be at least one video online.

    Comment by byard pidgeon — 10:40 am April 16, 2013 #

  27. ‘Entertainment’ is a subjective term for that video… and no, that will probably never be done again by anyone anywhere. KATU in Oregon shot the notorious story about it (I worked at a Seattle station with the same ownership and heard about it shortly after arrival in the early ’90s, though I believe it dates much further back) – TR

    Comment by WSB — 10:46 am April 16, 2013 #

  28. Whaling was an industry that approached genocide in the name of lamp oil and margarine. Fin whales are rorquals, not humans, so I’m defying the definition, but they were hunted to almost zero. Did the indulgent parent (Mr. Knapp in your caption, WSB) who walked their child on the disemboweled body of a rare whale explain that whales are intelligent and social? Did this whale’s size remove the normal boundaries we recognize? (Would any parent encourage their child to walk over a dead dog or wild boar?) Based on what we do know, rorquals are monogamous. They love deep waters. When they open their mouths to feed, they’re performing the largest biomechanical act of any being on earth. We can argue all day on fisheries law and common sense i.e. do you really want to walk on a decomposing body? Taking an unnecessary stroll on a carcass, whether to confirm scale or just for fun, doesn’t form a caring “community” or give your child that extra push into an elite career. More than our continual crassness as a people, are we really so broke as an iPhone nation that we have gadgets but lack the means to remove this body?

    Comment by WenG — 5:58 pm April 16, 2013 #

  29. Hey Higgins! I’m also a Pullman Kid!

    Comment by anonymous — 10:17 pm April 16, 2013 #

  30. My dog and I checked him out and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. He didn’t die from disease and the chance to touch something like this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everyone there that day was fascinated and respectful. People need to chill out and cherish moments like this.

    Comment by Elena — 8:03 am April 17, 2013 #

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