Followup: What researchers found inside the Arroyos gray whale

(WSB photo from Thursday)
From Wednesday through Saturday last week, we brought you the story of the gray whale that stranded and died at Arroyo Beach on the southwesternmost end of West Seattle. Cascadia Research has posted some early results from the necropsy done on the whale’s remains yesterday. Here’s their full writeup. No definitive cause of death, they write, but:

The animal had more than 50 gallons of largely undigested stomach contents consisting mostly of algae but also a surprising amount of human debris including more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball. The debris while numerous, made up only 1-2% of the stomach contents and there was no clear indication it had caused the death of the animal. It did clearly indicate that the whale had been attempting to feed in industrial waters and therefore exposed to debris and contaminants present on the bottom in these areas.

The whale died shortly after Arroyos residents first spotted it off their beach on Wednesday afternoon; researchers towed it away Saturday, bound for the South Sound beach where the necropsy was done, and where it will be left to decompose, with the bones eventually to be collected and displayed by marine researchers from Highline Community College‘s Marine Science and Technology Center.

46 Replies to "Followup: What researchers found inside the Arroyos gray whale"

  • Glocson April 19, 2010 (5:16 pm)

    Oh my god!!! Towels and sweatpants?!!! Horrible!

  • Cheryl April 19, 2010 (5:19 pm)

    Jesus. That’s SO wrong. Why do people dump their trash as if it’s just going to blow away and magically disappear? Don’t they remember the “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” campaign from the 70’s?


    Oh wait. No, they don’t.


    And they clearly don’t give a crap either.


    Breaks my heart.

  • k April 19, 2010 (5:20 pm)


  • alki resident April 19, 2010 (5:22 pm)

    I can kind of understand clothes and towels but surgical gloves?Are hospitals dumping waste?

  • JH April 19, 2010 (5:28 pm)

    Too bad there wasn’t a way to track all this crap…i.e. a full name written on the label of the sweatpants, hospital name on the surgical gloves, etc…oh wait. The surgical gloves were probably floating next to a needle.

  • jiggers April 19, 2010 (5:41 pm)

    newsflash: If this is found in one whale, can you imagine that every whale on this planet has something man made that’s killing them internally. Sick.

  • Rod Nelson April 19, 2010 (5:48 pm)

    At least the oceans are still pristine…

  • d April 19, 2010 (6:01 pm)

    For further edification, including my own:

  • Jim April 19, 2010 (6:02 pm)

    Pristine Oceans???

    Check out the Seaplex study below

    As for surgical gloves, trades people commonly use nitrile gloves for a layer of protection these days.

  • Amy April 19, 2010 (6:07 pm)

    You think the oceans are pristine?!? Think again. Their is a huge glob of plastic and other manmade materials that are about the size of Texas floating out in the Pacific. Do some research on the Discovery Channel alone and you will find many disturbing stories about how polluted the oceans are.

  • Velo_nut April 19, 2010 (6:15 pm)

    You would all be amazed at what we used to shoot out of the TDU onboard my submarine…

  • herongrrrl April 19, 2010 (6:16 pm)

    If you follow the link in this post you can read about the other dead grays found here this year, and it’s noteworthy that this one has a bunch of garbage in its guts but the others don’t. Also, if you read the full write up on this, you’ll see that researchers don’t consider this garbage to be the cause of death. The garbage actually was a small percentage of the stomach contents.

    I see this finding as a reminder to us all. Even if you’re meticulous about putting your garbage/recycling where it goes, that’s no guarantee it’s not going to end up where it shouldn’t. Stuff falls out of garbage/recycling cans and trucks, wind blows things around, stuff ends up where you don’t expect it. And, yes, thoughtless people litter, no doubt about it. Reducing waste, rather than just disposing of it appropriately, is ultimately the best way to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

    I don’t want to come across as sounding like I don’t think there’s a problem. I’m a naturalist who cares deeply about the wildlife around here, marine mammals in particular. But I do want to point out that jumping to conclusions without reading all the information that researchers are providing us about this and other whale deaths is probably not helpful if you want to understand what’s really going on. Remember, when the whales die off the coast because they’ve spent all their blubber reserves, nobody knows about it, but they still die. I think the fact that so many grays are coming into Puget Sound is actually a pretty positive sign that the overall population is doing pretty well.

  • Amy April 19, 2010 (6:22 pm)

    Hospitals like many other industries have been dumping waste for decades. Just think about the next time you purchase a bottle of water or anything for that matter that is made of plastic and is disposable, there is a high probability that some of it will end up in our oceans.

    Take a look at the link Jim posted also, if that doesn’t give you pause for thought then I don’t know what will.

    If you look you will find more and more companies are creating greener products. Just because we buy something that can be recycled don’t forget that it is being made in a factory and that factory is creating pollutants.

    It is all overwhelming but even if we change a couple of things that we purchase it adds up to have a huge impact for the better.

  • md April 19, 2010 (8:08 pm)

    The baby gray that died in Oregon had a huge rope coming out of is mouth too.

  • jjj April 19, 2010 (8:17 pm)

    “Are hospitals dumping waste?”

    sure. how about all the syringes which washed up on Alki?

  • Sargon Bighorn April 19, 2010 (10:27 pm)

    The whale did not die because it had sweat pants in its stomach. Eat a pair and see if it kills you.

    It’s the same with children eating lead, it won’t kill them, but they might end up “beached”.

  • mc April 19, 2010 (10:32 pm)

    In a pile of waste, if rubber-like (latex or not) gloves are found, then we SHOULD assume they MUST be surgical gloves, and therefore hospitals are to blame for dumping. Oh yea, and there must be needles too! I especially like the idea that hospitals ought to have their name printed on the gloves they use…haha.
    C’mon people, get a clue!
    Practically ANYONE can purchase surgical gloves from any place that sells medical or first aid supplies. Furthermore, a large segment of the population has access to syringes/needles outside of any hospital.
    So guess what? Quit acting so surprised when something like this happens. Quit assuming some larger institution (or government entity) is to blame.
    We are ALL responsible for stuff like this more than we give ourselves credit.

  • kate April 19, 2010 (11:19 pm)

    Hitting the beach tomorrow, around low tide, to pick up trash. In one hour I can usually fill a whole garbage bag. Pick up one piece of derelict fishing gear and you can save a whale, seal, or gull. Easy.

  • EyeLiveInWestSeattle April 19, 2010 (11:52 pm)

    Hospitals do not dump waste. That lovely act is provided by the contractors the hospitals pay lots of money to dispose properly… but the contractors don’t “properly” dispose the waste, but they sure get to keep the money!

    Oh… bummer for the poor whale. Someone should tell these so-called mammals to stop being so careless with the food! And for God’s sake, stop eating our garbage that gets tossed illegally into the ocean. Stupid whales….

  • James April 20, 2010 (12:36 am)

    I am with MC it would be hard for me to conceive that any animal swallowing plastic trash would not get quite sick. Having worked on the islands in the Central north Pacific in the middle of the giant plastic trash hole I can attest to the ugly death of albatross fed plastic fishing gear. Cheap surgical gloves readily dissolve when exposed to even mild solvents or acids, hmmmmmm.

    Having helped with marine mammal necropsy, I know they are very thorough but limited to finding normal causes of death that are of significant impact on populations under NMFS management. In other words, bacteria, and other disease organisms. Since plastic trash is a coast guard problem and they do nothing about fining manufacturers, then NMFS is powerless to protect the animals they are responsible for.

    If the numbers of animals are increasing due to less hunting, its very telling that our industrial living is not healthy for whales. How long before that industrial pollution is so widespread it again threatens the population?


  • Marie Leroy April 20, 2010 (4:46 am)

    Le plus prédateur des animaux tue pour se nourrir
    nous les humains serions plutôt des assassins!

  • Nick April 20, 2010 (6:24 am)

    “You’re not throwing it ‘away’, you’re throwing it ‘somewhere else’.”

  • Eilene Hutchinson April 20, 2010 (7:55 am)

    Thank you for this update. While I found, reading this story, that the litter found in the whale’s stomach was not the cause of death, it is easy to see that it had been eating a lot of unhealthy “junk food”.
    The WSB reports on many opportunities to volunteer on work parties to clean up this litter, such as the one on April 17th, the kayak clean up of the Duwamish. Concerned citizens have plenty of chances to help. We can take care of our own litter and even on daily walks, etc. pick up other people’s trash. Unfortunately, there is ample opportunity for this.

  • Heather C Graham April 20, 2010 (9:26 am)

    It leaves me sick to my stomache that we, the “most intelligent of the animal world” dont give a thought about dumping our garbage into the oceans of the world. We know many fish and mammals are polluted with chemicals that make them poisonous for eating.How sad to know this. Coral reefs are dying off,whales and dolphins killed by the thousands. Fish are getting scarce,yet we dont have the sense to stop overfishing. Why cant this giant dumping spot in the Pacific be cleaned up? Just for a start. Talking about it does nothing .Action is required. Force our Governments to get at it and catch and punish those who are caught doing all the polluting. I realize this has been going on for hundreds of years,when no one gave a thought about these things..Now its come back to haunt us. Our waters are mostly polluted or spoiled by logging companies and chemical plants dumping waste products into the oceans,lakes and rivers. its time to stop!

  • k2 April 20, 2010 (10:15 am)

    What about all the things you can’t see in the stomache, like the industrial petro-chemicals, or the nuerotoxic sludge, or even the prescription pills you flush down the toilet. All that stuff is not only in the whales, it’s in the fish that you eat and it will kill you, blame the cancer on whatever you want, it’s in your water, your food and your soil.
    All those poor folks down by harbor island during the summer fishing for bottom feeders in a EPA superfund site…unbelievable…

  • Eileen April 20, 2010 (10:16 am)

    Was this whale a male or a female? I can’t stand hearing animals referred to as “it”. By the way, a garbage patch in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda has been discovered, as well. There are 5 gyres of swirling plastic soup contaminating the oceans of the world in the north and south Pacific, north and south Atlantic and the Indian ocean.

    Here’s a link to photos of the deadly effects of plastic on albatross:

    • WSB April 20, 2010 (10:39 am)

      Male. First thought to be female, then further examination revealed 37-foot “near-adult” male gray whale.

  • Sam Deeks April 20, 2010 (10:20 am)

    Intelligence clearly includes the ability to kill everything else off in our out-of-control, self-extincting trajectory. In which case, I don’t want to be intelligent.

    I’d rather be part of something else; part of a species that evolved beyond greed and endless, brain-dead destruction – beyond ‘intelligence’?

    Wonder when it’s going to happen?

  • Jeani April 20, 2010 (10:46 am)

    so bottom line is. if you see something blowing around. pick it up will take about 20 seconds and can make a huge difference. There are so many people that think “I am just one person, I don’t make a difference” YES you do, we all do. the garbage floating in the pacific could be classified as a new continent….it is that large and growing everyday. please take the time to make a difference… anyway you can. and then PRAY for mother earth!

  • Ramona Gault April 20, 2010 (11:17 am)

    Obviously recycling plastic is not the solution. There’s just too damn much of it. If you’re up to more heartbreak, watch this:
    Photos of baby albatross chicks that died from ingesting plastic on Midway Island in the Pacific. Photographed by Seattle-based Chris Jordan. There’s just got to be a better way, folks. See the Midway blog: and take the pledge to use less (useless?) plastic. Example: you can buy inexpensive mesh bags to put your fruit and veggies in at the grocery store. And don’t buy bottled water. Peace.

  • brandon April 20, 2010 (11:28 am)

    Was the garbage in spanish or english? just sayin….

  • me on 28th Ave SW April 20, 2010 (12:09 pm)

    This story is now on

    • WSB April 20, 2010 (12:22 pm)

      Yes, various versions of it are getting national attention … most interestingly to us (pointed out to me by a Twitter friend), actress and animal advocate Daryl Hannah picked up the WSB version (this link) and sent it to her Twitter group.

  • Tonya April 20, 2010 (1:05 pm)

    Makes me very sad (and disgusted) to read this :(

  • Daniel Polk April 20, 2010 (3:46 pm)

    Pristine oceans?? What planet are you living on? Turns out the Atlantic also has a garbage dump.

  • Wahoochuck April 20, 2010 (4:47 pm)

    Golf Ball? Thats a hole in one

  • Simon April 20, 2010 (5:25 pm)

    That’s terrible, I’m so tired of seeing these beautiful creatures and so many other defenseless animals being killed, poisoned, and pushed to near extinction by the Human Race who continually polute and destruct the Planet and eachother, and these animals.
    It just gets worse, year after year, the teams of people and charities that work hard to protect these animals and the enviroment are fighting a losing battle.

  • mekosan April 20, 2010 (8:19 pm)

    Of all the species, the human race is like a cancer; consuming and leaving behind it a trail of distruction, never contributing to its environment. Never living in union with that environment. Scraping away the layers of the planet, paying no mind to where the debris is tossed.

  • Neal Chism April 20, 2010 (8:34 pm)

    I want to know what the difference is between “industrial waters” and regular waters might be? I don’t see this on any maps or nautical charts….

    It is great to see 38 comments about this event here on the blog, but sadly an event like this has to happen to make people more aware. Marine debris is a huge problem, possibly will make the effects from global warming seem small by comparison. While the ingested plastic was not the cause of this animals demise, I for one would like to say, maybe one day, that our rivers are not polluted anymore, and we are cleaning the trash out of our oceans.

    So the following are links for anyone interested, to learn, understand, and then please try and spread the word.

    Starting near the beginning, you can go to by Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer the man who coined the terms “gyre” and “great garbage patch”. ( or see:
    Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch link

    There are at least 11 gyres and counting right now, we will probably get a new one when the ice melts in the arctic ocean.

    Next up, to really see the impact locally…
    PBS Show call “Poisoned Waters”. Some of this video will look very familiar.

    Then after really being pushed back in your sofa, futon, or comfy chair, take a deep breath and then learn how a person can help by visiting one or two of the following places like:

    or just go to last weekends story here at the blog regarding the
    “Duwamish Alive” volunteer day in the river basin and its’ “Industrial” waters.

    The good thing is that by simply putting a plastic bag in your coat pocket before you go down to the beach, and then by putting just a few trash items inside this bag and tossing the thing in a can on the way home, you become part of the solution.

    Doing a little, really does help a lot.

    Neal Chism

  • Laurie April 20, 2010 (9:20 pm)

    I am pretty sure that the original ‘oceans are still pristine’ comment was meant to be sarcastic.

    That said, this is heartbreaking.

    Thank you to all of the commenters with information on how we can help.

  • sanjay April 21, 2010 (4:41 am)

    i am very concern over it…need to take action against it immediately…

  • Hari April 21, 2010 (7:24 am)

    God!!!! disgusting…

  • m April 21, 2010 (6:46 pm)

    Is not just in rivers… in the neighborhood I, have seen people littering and what upset me is that many of them are from other countries, uneducated, and do not give a dam about polluting.
    careless who, trash the city, just about everywhere.

  • mztique April 25, 2010 (12:24 pm)

    what a damn shame!

  • CLM May 4, 2010 (10:32 am)

    Does anyone see where mankind is heading? All this So Called “Progress”, and “Convenience” we have is going to One Day Kill Us All! Nature is Screaming for Us to Stop! The Earth is Groaning from our Irresponsible Behaviors.
    Can you say “EarthQuakes? It’s only going to get worse… Mark my Words….I know God is Grieved…
    Better Wake Up America, stop talking and start reversing the mess we have built here. If Everyone would take each day and live Responsibly it would help, but we can never truly undo the damage that’s already been done. This is just one horrible example that shows the affect it has on all of nature, so VERY Sad and if you have looked around you at all today, you will see it’s everywhere. Pollution needs to stop! We are the Cause, When we should be the Solution….

  • Alana Weaver May 4, 2010 (4:19 pm)

    It’s not hospitals that are dumping directly into the earth’s oceans it’s contract waste management companies found in such cities like New York, San Francisco and several other cities. Dumping also involves U.S. Naval carriers when their out to sea doing their carrier quals and performing missions along with cruise lines and other sea-going vessels. We have to find an effective way to recycle and reuse materials that don’t biodegrade. Or else our rivers, oceans and other bodies of water are going to become more and more pollute. As you can see is the result from this whale transversing the world’s oceans.

Sorry, comment time is over.