Grayland gray whale died in collision with boat

A preliminary necropsy on the dead gray whale on the beach near Grayland shows the 39-foot mature adult female died in a collision with a vessel “smaller than a container ship.”

The whale also exhibited signs of a parasitic infection, Jessie Huggins, stranding coordinator of Cascadia Research, said on Wednesday, so she warned the public not to touch the whale since some whale infections can be transmitted to humans.

Shattered bones and bruising were found on the left side of the rostrum, or the area in front of the blowhole, near the whale’s jaw. “It’s like the bridge of the nose near the cheek” on a human, though that comparison is not exactly equivalent, Huggins said.

That injury was the likely the cause of death four or so days ago, she said. The body of whale was noticed in the surf by a passerby on Sunday evening, she was told.

The whale, though in fair nutritional condition, “was a bit skinny” and signs of a parasitic infection were found on her skin and in the blubber layer, she said.

The necropsy was performed Tuesday by Cascadia with help from state Fish & Wildlife officials and the Westport Aquarium, where the whale skeleton may end up. Results from the tissue samples may not be available for a year, Huggins said.

The age of the whale cannot precisely be determined yet, but from scarring on the ovaries, they know it is a mature female, she said.

Marc Myrcell, director of the aquarium, confirmed he would like to exhibit the bones to show what happens when a boat collides with a whale. The current plan is to get the donation of a “backhoe and half a day’s labor” to drag the whale’s carcass up the beach 1,000 feet to a wooded area on 10 acres of privately held land between the beach and the highway.

Myrcell has already started to remove the bones, he said. “I am more hands on.”

He is working on a plan to present to the State Parks manager.

The private owner volunteered to allow the whale to decompose under layers of manure or, in effect, to compost the whale’s remains and allow the “critters to clean the bones for us,” Myrcell said. He estimated that State Parks will give him “two or three days” to remove the whale since they “want it off that beach” because it is very visible.

The move could save the state thousands in burial costs, Myrcell said.

Myrcell has “several ideas” about how to move the whale and needs to give the parks manager a plan to approve as soon as possible because parks is “anxious to get it off ” the beach, Virginia Painter from State Parks & Recreation said.

She confirmed the aquarium has two to three days to move the whale carcass, which will be easier to move sooner rather than later due to decomposition. Parks supports the possible exhibit of the whale’s skeleton at the Westport Aquarium, which has the permits needed to move whale remains per the state and federal departments of Fish & Wildlife, she said.

Gray whales, which are bottom feeders, travel close to the shore this time of year, Huggins said. No one reported striking the whale, she said. If anyone knows anything about the whale collision, they can call the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration at 1-800-853-1964.

Boaters should be watchful for whales, Huggins said. If a spout or dorsal fin is seen, she cautioned boaters to slow down and to cut the engines if the whale approaches. “Stay at least 100 yards away,” she said.

To donate equipment or labor to the aquarium’s effort to save the whale’s bones, call the aquarium at 360-268-7070.

A fin whale, which died in an unrelated collision with a bigger vessel, was found on Copalis Beach last month. It washed away.