West Seattle, Washington
12:40 PM: Thanks to the texter who pointed out that Orca Network spotters are seeing orcas heading this way – southbound from Discovery Park on the north side of Elliott Bay as of a little while ago. So if you can, watch for them from West Seattle shores, and please let us know if you see them; we won’t be able to check for a while.
P.S. Our most-recent whale report involved humpbacks passing by on Saturday – if you only saw the early version, we have since added an awesome photo.
1:33 PM: Another texter says they’re visible from Constellation Park right now.
2:01 PM: Thanks to Gary Jones for photos from Alki Point!
2:54 PM: They’ve passed Fauntleroy, according to comment updates; you’re advised to watch for Mark Sears’s small research boat. From up here on the hillside, we’re seeing seiners apparently chasing the same salmon as the orcas.
3:48 PM: If you’re out watching for the orcas, you might see another type of whale too – one commenter mentions a southbound humpback, while an e-mail tip mentions what looked like a northbound gray headed toward the lighthouse a little while ago. (If you’re not sure what you’re seeing, here’s the ID guide on West Seattle-based The Whale Trail‘s site.)
4:56 PM: Now headed northbound, says Susan in comments.
ADDED MONDAY NIGHT: Thanks to Monica Zaborac for two more photos of the orcas that visited today!
3:20 PM: Thanks to Monica Zaborac for the tip and photo – two humpback whales are in the area again! She saw them from a ferry near Southworth, just west of Vashon Island; at least one Orca Network commenter says they’re visible from here (take your binoculars).
ADDED EARLY SUNDAY: Meg McDonald of Wild Northwest Beauty Photography caught one of the humpbacks breaching in Colvos Passage along the west side of Vashon Island; her image is added above.
12:03 PM: Thanks for the text – orcas are reported in the area! Southbound and possibly along or near West Seattle shores by now, according to Orca Network spotters, who say these are Southern Resident Killer Whales. Let us know if you see them!
12:24 PM: Another texter says they’re off Alki. We’re en route to look.
12:39 PM: Not seeing any unassisted from the Alki Point vicinity but some hardy spotters are out looking. Take binoculars.
12:55 PM: Just heard from Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales. He says some are visible in the Vashon ferry lane, one here, two there, southbound, but not close to the WS side.
1:54 PM: From above Lincoln Park, we’re seeing a few headed along the north end of Vashon, continuing SB.
2:07 PM: And we just received a call from someone seeing more pass by Constellation Park. Thanks – 206-293-6302 voice or text, any time!
Second coyote photo of the week – thanks again! Just keeping track of our urban wildlife. This photo was texted this morning from the Fairmount Park/Playfield area, Fauntleroy Way and SW Dawson [map]. As always, heres the gold-standard advice from the state Fish and Wildlife Department – including what to do if you see one nearby – do your best to scare it away – coexistence for us, them, and the rest of the urban ecosystem depends on them wanting to keep their distance.
Thanks to Gary Jones for the photos, taken around 5:15 pm from Alki Point, as these whales headed southbound:
Looked to Gary, and to us, like humpback whales, and the Orca Network Facebook page also mentions a sighting of what were described as humpbacks about the same time. As we learned from researchers during coverage of the August 7th humpback stranding in Fauntleroy, their population has been increasing dramatically along the West Coast, and sightings have as a result become more common in Puget Sound. Here’s the one-page ID guide from The Whale Trail.
Thanks to Kevin for e-mailing (firstname.lastname@example.org) that photo of a coyote spotted near 50th SW and SW Walker [map], around 10 am today. Not far from greenbelts, but over the nine years we’ve been publishing sighting reports (all from WSB readers except this one), we’ve had many relatively far from greenbelts, too. We publish them as an informational reminder that they’re out there, and you should read up on experts’ advice for coexistence – making sure they have no reason to hang around too close or for too long. The best advice is here.
One more video from our semi-stormy Saturday: If you missed “Diver Laura” James‘s live dive to the stormwater outfall in Cove 1 near Seacrest – here’s the video. She was streaming live via Periscope, hoping for a live look at the mesmerizing and sometimes horrifying sight of polluted stormwater runoff emerging into Puget Sound, but the rain chose that exact time for a break. There were still sights to see, and she’s added captioning for the narration recorded. You’ll also see good reasons not to ignore litter you might spot on the street – and some wildlife, too.
(WSB photo, May 2016: West Seattle Elementary group at Fauntleroy Creek with volunteer Dennis Hinton)
By Dennis Hinton, Fauntleroy Creek volunteer
Special to West Seattle Blog
After months of not knowing if the Fauntleroy Creek Salmon in the Schools program would continue uninterrupted as it has for more than 20 years, word came late last week that it will.
The program centers on coho fry released by schoolchildren. Ten elementary schools and three preschools in West Seattle receive coho eggs in January and students rear the fish while learning about biology, habitat, and the role of salmon in Pacific Northwest environment, commerce, and culture. Nearly 800 students came to the creek this past spring on release field trips, bringing 1,800 coho fry.
For the first time since 1991 when it started Salmon in the Schools, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife notified program coordinators six months ago that coho eggs might not be available for the 2016-17 term. Without them, participating West Seattle schools would have had to rear another salmon species for release elsewhere.
(WSB photo: Judy Pickens at Westside School on egg-delivery day last January)
“This news from the state was chilling to both teachers and creek volunteers,” said Judy Pickens. She and Phil Sweetland represent Fauntleroy Creek on the Salmon in the Schools – Seattle steering committee that coordinates the program for 71 schools in the city. “Without coho, the creek would have lost much of the life we’ve been working for 26 years to restore and the community would have lost a much-loved natural feature, a small taste of the wild in urban West Seattle.”
The state based its warning on last year’s meager return of coho spawners to Puget Sound and predictions of a low coho return this year. Warm water off the Oregon-Washington coast killed their prey and, without food, the fish that had survived predation and pollution to get that far died. No spawners came into Fauntleroy Creek last fall.
Based on early coho returns to area hatcheries, creek volunteers are cautiously optimistic about getting spawners this year. The annual drumming to call them in will be Sunday, October 30, at 5 pm at the fish-ladder viewpoint (SW Director and upper Fauntleroy Way SW).
Volunteers will start watching for spawners the following week when tides are high enough for the fish to have easy access to the mouth of the creek. Assuming veteran watchers spot fish, watch here for an invitation to join their ranks.
7:54 AM: No other details, but we just got a call reporting whales visible, northbound, in the Lincoln Park area. Off to check.
8:24 AM: See Krista’s comment for details on what she saw and called in (THANK YOU! 206-293-6302 is our voice/text 24-7 hotline). We’re down along Beach Drive to see if we can spot them. No luck so far, but the water’s pretty choppy.
8:38 AM: Scott e-mailed to say they were visible off north tip of Blake Island – closer to West Seattle side – as of about 10 minutes ago. We’re on the lookout now from the Constellation Park shore.
8:42 AM: They’re passing Constellation Park right now!
8:48 AM: Just out of view from Constellation unless there are far-behind stragglers – passing Alki Point.
9 AM: Now on the west end of Alki Beach Park – where the watchers include Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail, who tells us these are Southern Resident Killer Whales making their autumn salmon-seeking return – J Pod, to be specific. They’re now heading north across the Bainbridge ferry lanes and not likely to be visible from here much longer. We’re adding a phone photo we took from Constellation, hoping someone will have a better one to share (email@example.com) later.
9:43 AM: Thanks to those who are sending photos! We’ve replaced our aforementioned blurry phone photo with much-better contributed shots.
(WSB photo – Longfellow Creek during fall 2014 salmon survey)
Help survey coho salmon returning to Longfellow Creek in West Seattle! Puget Soundkeeper Alliance is looking again this fall for dedicated volunteers. Here’s their announcement:
During the salmon run each fall, a population of coho salmon enters the Duwamish River from Elliott Bay, and then swims up Longfellow Creek to spawn. As coho migrate through urbanized waterways like Longfellow, they encounter a chemical cocktail of toxic runoff from roadways and other paved surfaces. These chemicals severely disorient adult coho and result in “pre-spawn mortality” in many individuals, meaning the salmon die before reproducing.
Previous surveys conducted by the City of Seattle and NOAA on Longfellow Creek have found pre-spawn mortality rates of up to 90% amongst females, an alarmingly high statistic. Examining the number of salmon that return to Longfellow Creek every year and documenting the pre-spawn mortality rate are great indicators of the health of our local waterways. Data gathered from these surveys shared with NOAA, the City of Seattle, Department of Fish and Wildlife and King County.
Volunteers will attend an orientation meeting on Tuesday, October 4th from 6:30-8:30 pm at Chaco Canyon Organic Café in West Seattle.
The nature of this work is geared toward adults only.
Surveying is a weekly commitment that takes approximately 1 hour to complete. The salmon run begins in mid-October and finishes mid-December, during which there will be a survey every day. Volunteers will be divided into teams of 2-3 people and assigned a weekday to conduct their survey.
We’re looking for adventurous volunteers! Surveying requires handling fish carcasses found in the creek (with gloves) and dissecting the female salmon to check for eggs.
Volunteers should be in good physical condition. Surveying in Longfellow Creek requires climbing up and down steep muddy embankments and wading through shallow water on uneven terrain.
Surveying is conducted in varying weather conditions. If conditions are dangerous (e.g. a downpour), we will cancel on that day. Otherwise, we survey rain or shine.
Volunteers will be provided with surveying kits and waders (unless you have your own pair). Data collected during the survey will be uploaded by the volunteers into Puget Soundkeeper’s database.
Salmon surveys are a great way to observe one of nature’s most amazing migrations and experience scientific field work. The data we collect from these surveys help us understand the effects of toxic runoff on one of the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic species and determine the best methods to protect them in the future!
Qustions? firstname.lastname@example.org – and when you’re ready to register, go here.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A week and a half after the famous Fauntleroy white geese were relocated to Vashon Island, the rescue group that is now housing them says they “are both doing great.”
We promised to follow up on our original September 9th report of their sudden removal, and in keeping that promise, have learned more about how that unfolded, and about how they had come to live in Fauntleroy in the first place.
We have communicated by e-mail with the rescue group, BaaHaus, and Seattle Parks, and have spoken by phone with the man who says he is the person who originally brought geese to the Fauntleroy shore and is sad that they are gone. Read More
Change of seasons tends to bring out the coyote sightings. We have two to share:
NEAR LUNA PARK: Jason sent the photo and report:”I was walking up Andover from Avalon toward the Fauntleroy pedestrian bridge [map], and I spotted what looked like a good-sized coyote across the street from the east entrance to the bridge. It saw me and froze, sat on its haunches, and watched me for 3-4 minutes. I took this photo (blurry since it was zoomed in on my phone), and shortly after that it disappeared when I looked away. It did not seem very afraid of me.”
IN SEAVIEW: Deb saw one early Friday along 47th SW between Findlay and Erskine [map]: “I was out around 1:30 in the morning when a lanky coyote with a thin tail came trotting down 47th. When the animal spotted me he wheeled and ran down the alley. I promptly went back in the house.”
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE ONE: Best thing to do is to scare it away, experts say. Other tips on coexisting with coyotes are in this fact sheet from the state Fish and Wildlife Department. Our off-and-on archive of West Seattle coyote sightings, meantime, is here.
2:32 PM: Thanks to Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail for the tip: She says orcas are in the area right now, between Blake Island and Vashon Island, headed south as of her call at 2:28 pm. They’re closer to the other side, so you need good binoculars to see them, but if you’d rather watch whales than football, get over to Beach Drive and points south! She says they’re believed to be transients, not the Southern Residents.
2:52 PM: We can see them from Upper Fauntleroy – heading southbound along Vashon’s east shore, just south of the ferry lane. Moving fast, and quickly out of our peek view; definitely closer to Vashon than this side.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Fauntleroy’s white geese are gone.
Early this summer, their numbers were up to five – parents and three goslings.
Then in early July, a driver hit and killed two of the goslings.
In recent days, we had received a few notes from worried West Seattleites, saying the remaining adult male gosling seemed to be missing too, and they were seeing only the female and the surviving gosling.
As of hours ago, those two are gone – but still alive – and their whereabouts are no mystery.
We found out through two calls today from a Lincoln Park-goer who told the story of what he considered an unauthorized capture: He said he was at the park early this afternoon, the two white geese nearby, when two people suddenly swooped in with carriers, put blankets over the geese, stuffed them into the carriers, and departed. Before they left, he said, another concerned outlooker found out that they were being taken to an animal sanctuary on Vashon Island called Baa Haus.
The caller said police were called and given a license plate number, but couldn’t catch up with the goose-capturers before they ferried away.
We hadn’t heard of Baa Haus before but looked it up online and left messages via voice-mail and e-mail. This evening, we got a call back.
Yes, Baa Haus has the geese, said the caller. They had received numerous calls from people worried the geese were in danger and needed to be rescued, before Baa Haus finally got the chance to intervene today via “a good Samaritan,” she said. She referred to the geese as having been “dumped in a park” and didn’t know much about their history, except to say Baa Haus understood “their numbers were dwindling.”
The two geese, she said, are “settling in quite happily” tonight at their new digs on the nonprofit’s six acres on Vashon, where they have about 30 geese in all. They will be “in quarantine” for a while, she said, until Baa Haus can get them checked out by a vet, and then they’ll work to integrate them with the other geese. But so far they seem to be in good spirits and condition, she said, adding that they’ve been vocalizing – “trash talking” as she put it with laughter – with the other geese.
Our conversation was brief, and we’ll be following up. Before we learned where the geese were, we had put in a call, unreturned, to the Seattle Animal Shelter, which had some involvement with the birds over the years, particularly in cases where the geese had been attacked by dogs.
We recall seeing white geese like these on the beach at Lincoln Park and nearby Cove Park going back more than 15 years; the question is whether anyone ever actually owned them, and whether Baa Haus needed anyone’s permission to remove them from the park. The spokesperson said her organization, which has been around for 20 years, has worked with numerous other groups, organizations, and entities.
Another sign of the season: David Hutchinson from Seal Sitters shares the photo and report on their banners’ annual arrival on Alki:
Seal Sitters would like to thank Seattle Parks & Recreation for installing our “Share the Shore” banners along Alki Avenue again this year. A special thanks to Parks’ employee, James Lohman, who has been responsible for handling this the past several years.
Harbor seal pups are born from June – September in south Puget Sound and Seal Sitters’ busiest time of year are the months of September and October when they “haul out” on our West Seattle beaches. They are protected by federal law, so if you come across one of these vulnerable pups, please remember the following: stay back, keep people and pets away, and call your local stranding network – for West Seattle beaches, that would be Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 206-905-SEAL (7325). For all other beaches, please call the NOAA Hotline at 1-866-767-6114.
Seal Sitters is a member of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
That means they are the people to call if you spot ANY marine mammal onshore, or in potential trouble just offshore, not just seals; they were the first responders for the Fauntleroy humpback whale one month ago.
(Added late Monday afternoon – photo by Trileigh Tucker)
2:11 PM: Just got a report from Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail that orcas – transients, not the Southern Residents – are headed southbound toward Alki Point. And she says they’re reported to be close to this side of the water.
2:44 PM: As of a few minutes ago, an Orca Network sighting report had them near the Vashon ferry.
3:14 PM: Just tweeted by @corybe – the video below, showing the orcas still heading southbound, closer to the Vashon shore, seen from the Fauntleroy-bound ferry:
— Cory Bergman (@corybe) September 5, 2016
The Center for Whale Research just announced that one of Puget Sound’s endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales is missing:
J14, a 42-year old female in J pod, is considered missing. Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research last saw her on July 31. Center for Whale Research staff members have since had three on-the-water encounters with the rest of her matriline but she was not present.
J14, also known as Samish – named by the Samish Tribe – was born in 1974, the first year Dr. Mike Bigg, commissioned by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, started studying the Southern Resident killer whales. She has three living offspring: daughters J37 and J40 and son J45; she is also grandmother to J37’s calf J49. J14 is the only known daughter of J12 and a possible descendant of J2.
CWR staff member Melisa Pinnow last photographed J14 from shore on August 3rd. When last seen in July, J14 gave no indication of being sick or otherwise unhealthy.
We will wait to have one more definitive encounter with the J14’s before recording her as indeed deceased.
Get some more joy into your life – the joy of helping. Donna Sandstrom from West Seattle-headquartered The Whale Trail has two ways to suggest:
The Whale Trail is hosting a Volunteer Meeting tomorrow [Tuesday] night at C & P Coffee in West Seattle [5612 California SW] from 6:30 to 8:30. We’ll be planning for the Orca Half/Seattle Summer Parkways, our next season of Orca Talks, and more! A great chance to meet other orca enthusiasts, and put your passion to work for the whales! Learn more and RSVP at Brown Paper Tickets.com. Hope to see you there!
Run, Walk or Volunteer for the Whales and The Whale Trail! The Whale Trail is the beneficiary of the Orca Half, a half-marathon in West Seattle on September 25! We’ll also be participating in Seattle Summer Parkways, 11 to 4 on the same day.
–We need help handing out water at the water tables 9:00 to 1, and staffing our booth at Seattle Summer Parkways from 11 to 4.
–To help with the water tables, sign up at orcahalf.com, and tell them you’re with the Whale Trail! Join us tomorrow at C & P to learn more, or get in touch with Donna – email@example.com – 206-919-5397
P.S. We notice on the Orca Half website that it has participation capped at 500 runners and is up to 439 signups as of this writing – so if you’ve been procrastinating, time to get going.
(Photo by Robin Lindsey)
Volunteer work … on the beach. Doesn’t get much better than that. Especially when it involves helping marine mammals and helping people learn about them. So here’s your chance! From Robin Lindsey @ Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which deals with more than seals:
We still have some spaces left for our Saturday, August 27th, Seal Sitters new volunteer training, held from 10 am-12:30 pm – see the details here.
Anyone interested must RSVP at the link above to ensure a seat. We welcome new volunteers and do encourage children to join the group, since they can learn to be environmental stewards and be empowered with protecting marine life.
We are definitely in the throes of harbor-seal pupping season now and it has certainly been an interesting season thus far with numerous seal pups, as well as the sad stranding of the humpback whale. Just (Wednesday) we had a report of a pup on the beach steps at Alki, but the pup didn’t linger long and left right before our responder arrived.
As always, if anyone sees a seal pup – or other marine mammal – on the beach or in trouble offshore, please call Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (7325). Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a partner in NOAA’s West Coast MMSN and responds to reports of all marine mammals, dead or alive.
P.S. Here’s one of the seals guarded by SSMMSN recently – Robert Spears sent the photo from last week:
He says SSMMSN was there not only keeping the perimeter but also educating passersby.
While we work on a couple more news stories for tonight, how about a photo break? Mark Wangerin – who you know primarily for his amazing bird photos, often shared with us so we can show them to you – sent these images, explaining: “I was down at Luna Park trying to shoot Osprey diving, when this little pup attempted to haul out and get warm. After a few tries, it was successful. It rested and yawned, but its rest was soon disturbed by a ferry wave. It gave up on this spot and went to the sandier side of the pier. I had to remind a few not to disturb. That they need to haul out to warm themselves.”
We asked Mark if he had notified Seal Sitters (which handle, as we were reminded during Sunday’s Fauntleroy humpback stranding, ALL marine mammals in the area); he said he didn’t have a phone with him, and said the seal was soon out of sight. By the way, checking Seal Sitters’ Blubberblog, we see they’re having a volunteer-training session on August 27th – go here to RSVP if you’re interested.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The humpback whale that stranded and died south of the Fauntleroy ferry dock on Sunday will spend one more night tied to floats nearby.
Tomorrow morning, West Seattle-headquartered Global Diving and Salvage will send a vessel and crew to Fauntleroy to take the 39-foot juvenile female humpback on her final journey.
We talked tonight with Global vice president David DeVilbiss, who said they got the notification around midday today to “go ahead and take care of the whale” – too late to finalize logistics and make it happen before tomorrow morning.
He says they’re likely to use the Prudhoe Bay, which gets a spotlight each summer as it delivers the Seafair Pirates to Alki Beach. That’s also what Global used to tow away the fin whale that washed up at Seahurst Park in Burien three years ago. While it was taken to a relatively remote spot to decompose, this whale will be sunk in an unspecified area of Puget Sound that’s approved for the procedure.
DeVilbiss says that “involves towing it out and weighing it down with benign weights – basically, concrete blocks,” then cutting it loose to sink. It’s not as simple as it might sound – the whale’s carcass bloats with gases, so they’ll need to make sure the weights are enough that it won’t just float back up again.
No specific time is set for the tow – the crew will start work relatively early, preparing the boat and materials, before heading to Fauntleroy.
One more followup – the newest information on the investigation into why the whale died. Here’s what Cascadia Research Collective, whose biologists John Calambokidis and Jessie Huggins were among the experts and responders on the beach, is saying so far. They report that the “limited necropsy” done at the beach “revealed poor nutritional condition, multiple internal parasites, and internal injuries associated with the beaching event. The animal also had some killer whale bite marks on the jaw, and killer whales had been reported in the area the previous day. Samples will be submitted for a variety of analyses to determine if there were any other conditions that contributed to the stranding.”
This was the first time a whale had stranded on a West Seattle beach in six years, since the gray whale – also a juvenile female – that died in The Arroyos in April 2010. While her exact cause of death was not determined, the necropsy drew worldwide attention for turning up plastics and other trash in her stomach (here’s that report, also from Cascadia Research).
(SUNDAY NIGHT TOPLINE: Juvenile humpback whale stranded and died this morning south of Fauntleroy ferry dock, towed off beach this evening, to be sunk Monday)
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) August 7, 2016
(Video added 9:24 – you can hear the whale still trying to breathe)
FIRST REPORT, 7:58 AM: In just the past few minutes, we’ve received multiple messages about what people describe as a whale in trouble south of the Fauntleroy ferry dock.
One texter says Washington State Ferries has contacted NOAA; before that, we advised the first person to contact Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which deals with more than seals, at 206-905-SEAL. Some have texted images including the photo and video above. On our way for a firsthand look.
8:27 AM: We’ve just arrived at the dock, as has Robin Lindsey of Seal Sitters. This is definitely a humpback whale – Robin describes it as juvenile. It’s raised its fluke out of the water and has been heard trying to breathe, but it’s in very shallow water. Photo added. The tide is going out – we’re an hour past the highest tide of the day already. It can still be heard breathing, loud chugging sounds. We can’t recall a stranded whale in West Seattle since the gray whale that died in The Arroyos in 2010.
8:43 AM: Robin says cetacean experts are on the way. Since the tide is going out, volunteers will guard the beach and as the tide goes out, will use buckets and towels to keep the whale hydrated if needed. It’s definitely still alive – it spouted a few minutes ago and we could feel the spray.
9:27 AM: The whale is still breathing – we’ve added a short video clip atop this story. The fence along the ferry-dock walkway is lined with spectators.
We’ve also talked with Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales, a local whale researcher who we first met at the Arroyos whale stranding six years ago. He also told us that Cascadia and NOAA are on the way.
If you come to this area, please remember that the beach south of the ferry dock is private. There might be a call for volunteers later, if needed to keep this massive animal – a juvenile, but still massive – hydrated, so check back. We’ll be here for the duration. A WSF employee tells us she first saw it around 6:40, almost an hour before we started getting tips.
9:43 AM: As the water gets shallower, more of the whale’s head is visible, and its fluke is at the surface. Haven’t heard it breathe for a while now, sorry to say.
10:08 AM: Hogan and another whale expert are out with the humpback now, pouring water on it to keep it hydrated. (Video:)
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) August 7, 2016
We still haven’t heard it breathe for a while.
10:38 AM: Another view, from the beach:
We have crews both on the beach and on the dock. On the beach, NOAA tells us they’re still evaluating the situation and what to do next. For an overview of where this is happening – from the upper Fauntleroy Way bluff east of the dock, you can see the spectators and the entirety of the ferry dock:
The agencies/organizations on hand now include NOAA, Cascadia Research Collective (their stranding coordinator Jessie Huggins), MAST, as well as Seal Sitters and Killer Whale Tales.
10:56 AM: Sad news from our crew on the beach. Jessie from Cascadia says the whale has died, probably within the past half-hour. What happens next, has yet to be decided; when the gray whale stranded and died in The Arroyos in 2010, it was eventually towed away for a necropsy.
11:09 AM: More of the whale is becoming visible (photo above) as the tide continues to go out (low tide is at 2:29 pm, not a major low-low tide, it’ll be 2.0 feet).
Meantime, it’s raining, which has thinned the spectator crowd.
11:50 AM: On the beach, the experts/responders are continuing to strategize what to do next, who is available to help, and other logistics.
“We’re formulating a plan.”
12:12 PM: Cascadia Research Collective’s website includes a report on a June humpback death in Bremerton. It includes some context on these whales’ presence in Puget Sound, increasing in recent years. Meantime, researchers and responders plan to measure it soon. Among those represented here is MaST, which received the skeleton of the Arroyos gray whale.
12:38 PM UPDATE: Measuring it now. 11.9 meters long – about 30 feet. The measurements are in painstaking detail – each fin, each eye, etc.
1:04 PM UPDATE: Now on to tissue samples, to start the process of figuring out what led this whale to strand and die.
Low tide won’t bottom out for another hour and a half, so they have lots of time to work.
1:45 PM UPDATE: Just talked extensively with Lynne Barre from NOAA Fisheries and John Calambokidis of Cascadia. Here’s the video (low-res since we’re in the field):
Main points: The whale is bigger and older than first suspected – now they’re saying 39 feet long, and a few years old – still a juvenile, as reproduction begins around 5 years of age. They don’t know yet whether it’s female or male, nor have logistics decisions about its disposition been made. As we mentioned earlier in the story, Cascadia notes that humpbacks are becoming more common sights again in Puget Sound – and that’s part of dramatic population growth up and down the West Coast. This one, they say, clearly was emaciated, and that’s the flip side of the dramatic population growth – more whales seeking food.
P.S. Washington State Ferries asked us to remind you to please help them keep traffic flowing as they get to Sunday afternoon peak ridership/traffic here at Fauntleroy – if you’re watching from the fence on the dock, leave room for passengers to come and go; if you’re driving off the boat, please don’t slow down to gawk (we’ve seen a lot of that). WSF might also wind up helping move the whale – they’re checking around to see what kind of equipment they might have available at Eagle Harbor.
2:50 PM: Beachfront homeowners loaned volunteers and responders shovels so they could dig under the fins a bit, to prepare for floating the whale off on the evening high tide.
(The blue-shirted volunteer in our photo is David Hutchinson from Seal Sitters, a frequent WSB photo contributor.) Orange buoys are being secured to it, as well. And Robin from Seal Sitters tells us they’re finally getting close to figuring out vessel(s) that will be able to help get this off the beach at high tide tonight.
3:14 PM UPDATE: WSF’s Hadley Rodero is here on the beach and tells us they’re sending a team to help, with a vessel, so they can assist in getting the whale floated off the beach; it will be secured to the terminal overnight, which gives Cascadia/NOAA/etc. some time to figure out where to take it after that.
Obviously WSF has a stake in this because if not attended to, it could just float into the path of their vessels. Their team is not likely to arrive before 5 pm or so.
3:44 PM: New developments: For one, “Diver Laura” James is here with her 360-degree setup, to get a better look at the scene. (We’ll share her images when available.)
For two, the biologists/responders have decided to do some necropsy work right here, right now – they’re focused on the side that is not so visible from the dock – where there’s already been more extensive sampling (removal of part of its eye, for example) – but if you’re squeamish, this is not the time to come sightsee. This line of spectators apparently is not:
We by the way will put together a gallery tonight with many additional photos.
The experts/responders tell us they will decide tomorrow whether to sink the whale or tow it away for more necropsy work.
4:55 PM: The whale is female – the necropsy team found an ovary.
6:12 PM: The “shore gang” from WS Ferries has just arrived. (Thanks to WSF for the photo above – we’re still on the beach too but their photo’s better than ours.) With high tide approaching – 11.2 feet just after 9 pm – the whale is now fully back in the water again.
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) August 8, 2016
6:40 PM: John from Cascadia has been on and next to the whale (video above), securing it to some large floats brought by the WSF crew.
On shore, we’ve been talking with Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail, who, like other marine-mammal advocates here, has spent the day answering questions from so many curious people – the humpback will have an educational legacy, at the very least. The Seal Sitters volunteers/responders who have been here since early this morning also say the chance for so many people to learn more about whales has been important.
7 PM: As we Periscoped live (see the video above), the WSF crew has towed the whale over to the dock, where it will remain, tied to buoys and the dock, overnight. Tomorrow, NOAA tells us, the whale will be towed further out and sunk – there are designated spots where that’s allowable under state law, maybe as close as Blake Island, but they won’t decide until tomorrow. Now everyone who’s spent the day on the beach – researchers, responders, advocates, and local residents – is packing up; the Seal Sitters have taken down the beach-blockade tape. We have many more photos and are planning a separate gallery later with the toplines of this full day of coverage; thanks again to the people who let us know first thing this morning what they were seeing, almost 12 hours ago now.
(EARLY MONDAY NOTE: Sorry that the comments section on this closed itself around mid-afternoon Sunday – we’ve been unable to reopen it. But we published a separate photo-gallery followup that seems to be working properly, if you have something to say.)