A dead fin whale washed ashore on the beach north of Ocean City Wednesday night, and marine researchers yesterday worked between tides to perform a necropsy on the massive male mammal that was about 68-feet long.
Dyanna Lambourn, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife marine mammal research biologist on the scene, said the whale was similar to one that was found in Puget Sound in April near Burien. Fin whales are listed as endangered.
The whale was found between Ocean City and Copalis beach and spotted in the water and reported to state Parks rangers, who monitored the whale throughout the night until researchers could get to the site in the morning.
Fin whale sightings are fairly rare along the inner coast, and they are known as pelagic, which means they normally spend their lives in the open ocean, Lambourn said.
There have only been about a dozen of the fin whales reported over the past decade or so, she said.
Jim Schmidt, the state Parks manager based out of Ocean City State Park, said he first responded to reports of the whale in the surf late Wednesday afternoon, and there was no visible sign of life from it.
“When I got to it, it was sill in water, and you could not get a real good idea how large it was,” Schmidt said.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, fin whales are the second-largest species of whale, with a maximum length of about 75 feet. Fin whales can live 80-90 years and are often found in deep, offshore waters of all major oceans, primarily in temperate to polar latitudes.
“This is quite an experience,” said onlooker Scott Shropshire from Lakewood, who was staying in Ocean Shores and saw a posting on Facebook. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I wonder what they are going to do with it?”
As of Thursday afternoon, state Parks was still trying to decide what to do with the whale.
Samples of its tissue, its stomach contents and other specimens were taken Thursday after noon by Fish and Wildlife and the Cascadia Research Collective, which handles marine mammal strandings on the coast. The intent is to try to determine a cause of death.
“The whale we found in Burien was from a ship strike, said Robin Lindsey, a first responder for Seal Sitters and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and photographer. “It’s not uncommon for these big whales to get struck by ships, particularly because they eat on the surface.”
Schmidt said the whale is not believed to be a health hazard, but the smell of the decomposing carcass can be fairly overpowering.
“It’s at a closed area of the beach where people can’t drive down there,” he added, noting it is about a two-mile walk from either beach approach to get to the location.