SEATTLE – A young humpback whale is dead after spending several hours fighting for its life, stranded off the shores of West Seattle.
The 30-foot whale stopped breathing sometime after 10:30 a.m. Sunday, according to experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries division.
“You get to see a little bit of it in a museum or aquarium, but nothing like this, this is amazing,” said Susie Sung. Sung and her family were among hundreds who came out Sunday afternoon to see the whale.
NOAA worked throughout the morning, alongside a number of organizations and volunteers, to save the whale after bystanders reported the situation around 8 a.m.
Teams were hopeful they could keep the whale breathing until tidal conditions improved later in the day. “Our first responders were here on the beach in the water with the whale,” said NOAA scientist Lynne Barre. “We had wet sheets, they were trying to keep it wet and calm, to see if we could wait until the tide rose again, and we could get it back into the water.”
Sadly, the planned rescue operation soon turned into a recovery effort. “We’re trying to learn as much as we can, we’re doing a bit of an exam to look for things like disease and contaminants and what might have contributed to the cause of death,” said Barre.
Barre said this is the third beached humpback whale they have seen in the area, this year. “Our numbers of humpback whales have been increasing over the last few decades,” she said. “We’ve seen more humpback whales in inland waters, in Puget Sound, in recent years.”
It’s the silver lining said scientists of Sunday’s disappointing rescue operation. “We’re starting to see a recovery of whales in this area, but with that you also start to see more stranding events like this,” said Jessie Huggins, a stranding coordinator with Cascadia Research.
“The more we learn about what’s impacting these animals the more we can help recover them,” said Barre.