EVERETT, Wash. — Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife towed a gray whale away from an Everett beach Tuesday evening, so scientists can do a necropsy to find out how it died.
It's the 13th dead whale in to wash up on Washington state shores this year.
Scientists say the spike in gray whale deaths appears to be tied with malnourishment, but the drastic increase in the number of dead whales has marine biologists stumped.
Along the West Coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there are now 48 dead whales as of Tuesday that have washed up on shore. A normal year is just a few whales per state, per year.
The whale in Everett that washed up near Harborview Park had a stream of visitors on Tuesday. People were captivated by the whale, taking photos, and even touching it.
“It’s like leather. It's kind of malleable,” said Michelle Drobnick, who lives nearby in Everett. “To see them up close like this, it's like, 'Woah.' Sad,” she said.
“It’s alarming. It's gotta be something in the ocean,” said Dimitri Merkulov, who also lives near Harborview Park, which is the area where the whale was found.
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In California, there's the same problem. Nine whales there have washed up there in just the Bay Area.
"I'm concerned as to - I would like to find out why they're dying, if there's something we can do as a community," said Geri Klaaskate, another Everett resident.
The whales primarily feed in the Arctic, on creatures like tiny shrimp.
Many of the whales that have died this year have been skinny and malnourished -- starving to death.
“These whales are not getting enough food in the Arctic. That's the crux of the problem,” said Dr. Padraig Duignan, Chief Research Pathologist at the Marine Mammal Center.
When spotted on their migratory route passing Mexico, Duignan said the whales were already in poor shape.
“About 50 percent of the population were already in poor body condition,” Duignan said.
Scientists don't know why the whales aren't getting enough food.
But they say many more whales than we've counted are likely dying, because most whales simply sink when they die.
“We’re losing so many of them,” Klaaskate said.
The next step will be a necropsy for the Everett whale to help scientists find answers on what's causing the sudden spike in whale deaths.
Cascadia Research in Olympia said it normally likes to do the necropsy wherever the whale washed up, but because of the very public Harborview Park beach and the difficult mudflats (where the mud sinks), researchers decided to move the whale to Camano Island where they can do the necropsy with more privacy.
The good news is gray whales are not facing the same plight as our Southern Resident orcas. NOAA says the whale population is booming, with a count at 27,000.
Cascadia Research says the malnourished whales could be experiencing a sudden shift in their food source, which could be tied to climate change.
Or, scientists say the growing whale population could have simply reached a number that its natural environment can't sustain.
The necropsy is scheduled to be performed Thursday, which will reveal the gender and age of the Everett beached whale.
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