AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE: Humpback whale strands, dies south of Fauntleroy ferry dock

(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)

(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:)

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.

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.)

42 Replies to "AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE: Humpback whale strands, dies south of Fauntleroy ferry dock"

  • M Stephanie Lee August 7, 2016 (8:18 am)


  • Mike August 7, 2016 (8:28 am)

    Call the right people if you see whales stranded or in distress

    Do not approach a whale, if that thing happens to roll and you’re near it, you can die.  It’s that simple.

    • WSB August 7, 2016 (8:35 am)

      We’re here and so is Robin from Seal Sitters, which is this area’s official marine-mammal-stranding network. People are watching from here on the ferry dock and also from the private beach just south of it. – Tracy

  • hammerhead August 7, 2016 (9:09 am)

    It is still alive?  In the video I saw not air from the blow hole.  Very sad 

    • WSB August 7, 2016 (9:18 am)

      It’s still breathing.

  • willbehonest August 7, 2016 (9:13 am)

    Heartbreaking!! :( Seems that sometimes Grey and Humpback whales do come into these shallow waters when they are in poor health or unable to eat due to junk/trash in their digestive systems. Bless the volunteers out there helping right now. 

  • Therealbigpoppa August 7, 2016 (9:15 am)

    Let’s go team save Mother Nature 

    we need whales and Mother Nature  more than politics, social media, self absorbed  minimal’s  their helicopter parents and oppressive religions. 

    we the people and Mother Nature are under attack from evil i.e. Radical Muslims (including Iran), a spoiled ungrateful generation of  minimal’s (you all are not even close to as cool as our ansectors that actually mattered. And your corny parents that glamed up the 80s were broke too)  bad politicians (Our VP candidates are scarier than their running mates .)

     they are the real  oppressors 

    (those that support woman covering up in public, enslaving people and sell people for money  but talk about the oppressors of the west are lying pieces of crap as are your beliefs. Your fakes being manipulated by a few clerks that think of themselves as gods. Go get you logic checked you all got it twisted. ) 

    no woman should cover up her beauty. 

    say no to curtains 

    Save our whales save our world 

  • Lisa August 7, 2016 (9:25 am)

    Come on people!  Save this beauty!  Any updates?

    • WSB August 7, 2016 (9:26 am)

      It’s still in the same spot. Updating the story right now.

  • Karen August 7, 2016 (9:27 am)

    Maybe this is a dumb question, but do they need help with keeping it wet?

    • WSB August 7, 2016 (9:37 am)

      No call for volunteers just yet and there is no public access to the section of the beach where this is playing out, so stand by.

  • Anu Hastings August 7, 2016 (9:28 am)

    I’m a volunteer with the Orca Network and would love to help out any way I can. But i also want to avoid coming there and adding to the onlookers of what I’m sure is a very stressed whale. Any status update on if more volunteers are needed to help? Thanks.

  • AMD August 7, 2016 (9:42 am)

    Hang in there, little whale!  We’re rooting for you!

  • Alki Resident August 7, 2016 (10:11 am)

    This is by far the saddest thing Ive seen in a while. So heartbreaking to watch. Poor guy.

  • Tim August 7, 2016 (10:17 am)

    Perhaps a salt water pump for constant spray is worth considering.

  • cr August 7, 2016 (10:20 am)

    Are they bringing equipment to help move the whale back into deeper water? If not, i read the whale will die due to pressure on organs. 

  • cr August 7, 2016 (10:37 am)

    It seems like they need a boat to pull it into deeper water before the tide goes totally out?

    Any update?

    • WSB August 7, 2016 (10:40 am)

      We’ve just updated again. All the experts who could possibly be here are here. It’s not as easy as just towing it out or pushing it – even a juvenile weighs tons – we’ve just talked to NOAA on the beach and they are also still evaluating what condition it’s in.

  • Candace Calloway Whiting August 7, 2016 (10:50 am)


    I’ve posted your blog on mine, and am sending responses back to you for anyone who wants to follow this stranding or offer to volunteer.

    Please let me know if there is something further I can do,


    • WSB August 7, 2016 (11:12 am)

      Thanks, Candace. As we’ve reported in the story, unfortunately, the experts here confirm the whale has died, so there’s nothing more anyone can do to help it – now the decisions need to be made about how to remove it, necropsy it, etc. … we covered the whole process as it unfolded in The Arroyos with the gray whale that stranded there in 2010, and it took days. – Tracy

  • willbehonest August 7, 2016 (10:53 am)

    Bless these volunteers! 

  • East Coaster August 7, 2016 (11:07 am)

    Sad day for marine enthusiasts. Hopefully NOAA plans to release the information about how it died. It is likely that it was in distress before stranding itself at the docks. 

  • Mike August 7, 2016 (11:13 am)

    Sorry to hear it died.  I’m interested to know if it was sick (and if so what caused it to be sick), if that’s why it came so close to shore initially. 

  • Beckyjo August 7, 2016 (11:16 am)

    So sad. :-(

  • Alki Resident August 7, 2016 (11:24 am)

    RIP, This is too much

  • marie olson August 7, 2016 (11:25 am)


  • Anastasia L Dunn August 7, 2016 (11:46 am)

    ;'( Swim free in the oceans of eternity, sweet humpback.
    Kiss Keiko for me when you see him! 

  • Maggie August 7, 2016 (11:56 am)

    A NOAA spokesperson updated the crowd and let us know that the whale has died. It was a juvenile of undetermined age, and it will be measured to get an exact age. They are weighing whether to do a necropsy on site or to tow it away because it may be too public to do it by the pier. There was a pod of whales spotted by Bainbridge Island yesterday and it is thought that perhaps this little one is from that pod. According to the NOAA gal, it is very undernourished and show signs of being very sick. The skeleton will be donated to a public institution, which has yet to be determined. Thank you for bringing out community together, little whale. Be free. 

    • WSB August 7, 2016 (12:02 pm)

      Thanks. We are on the beach with NOAA, Cascadia, and the others deciding what to do, what can be done, as the receding tide continues to reveal more of the whale, yards away.

    • Debbie August 7, 2016 (2:51 pm)

      The pod of whales off Bainbridge yesterday were orca.

  • lynn August 7, 2016 (12:36 pm)

    Any loss of marine life is such a blow to our ecosystem…so heartbreaking!!!

  • Joe Szilagyi August 7, 2016 (12:38 pm)

    It would be very interesting to see some big HD photos of the whale at peak low tide, if that can be done. While this is all sad, it’s not every day you get to see a humpback that fully exposed and it would be fascinating if you guys could post a couple like that in an update.

    • WSB August 7, 2016 (1:00 pm)

      Yes, that’s still an hour and a half away, but we were here long before anybody else and we’ll be here for hours more.

  • JayDee August 7, 2016 (1:27 pm)

    In a sad way it is good that there are enough humpbacks around that one can die here.  Their populations were decimated.  In 1966 there were 1,400 in the North Pacific; now it is estimated that there are 21,000.


    • WSB August 7, 2016 (1:44 pm)

      JayDee, we and a few tv crews just wrapped an interview with two of the experts here who talked about that. I’m uploading now and adding a few factoids. – TR

  • Atomicoven August 7, 2016 (1:42 pm)

    Thank you all working on this sad day. We’ve lost a sibling and I’m glad someone could be there to comfort as the whale took its last breathes….

  • j August 7, 2016 (1:59 pm)

    We should not be disrupting nature by towing this whale away.

    The whale should be left in this region to feed our bait fish, crabs, starfish etc

    Do tests here and leave whale here. 

  • Rhonda Porter August 7, 2016 (2:33 pm)

    why wasn’t something done sooner? Was it waiting for more experts to show up? Was it the private beach that the home owners did not want people willing to volunteer to trespass?

    I was there this morning and felt so helpless watching this poor whale. :( 

    • WSB August 7, 2016 (2:41 pm)

      The whale’s condition had to be assessed and then a plan of action taken. There was really nothing that could have been done to save it – it’s very emaciated, as described in the interview video we added – even if it had been in good condition and might have been helped by towing, the right kind of vessel would have had to be found … given that it weighs thousands of pounds.- TR

  • Mark August 7, 2016 (2:52 pm)

    This is sad, now to ascertain cause.  Was it environment contaminate, running away from Orcas or other reason?

    • Rosetess August 7, 2016 (3:11 pm)

      Consider the unavoidable noise of a SeaFair weekend. And the ferry.  Fauntleroy Creek is salmon bearing. 

  • Rosetess August 7, 2016 (3:02 pm)

    An undernourished whale MAY be a result of the difficulty whales face in our NOISY Puget Sound echo chamber. They cannot NAVIGATE or COMMUNICATE. Consider this: If it found food by the ferry the NOISE of the ferry and SEAFAIR no less (noise from below and above) would create a SONIC SEA. Did #SONICSEA effect slowly and ultimately kill this whale?

Sorry, comment time is over.