LONG BEACH, Wash. — An entangled gray whale calf died after being caught in crab pot lines, Olympia-based science group Cascadia Research Collective reported following an examination.
The whale, a 20-foot-7-inch male born this calving season, was initially reported dead in late April, anchored in place half a mile off of the Seaview beach approach. On May 1, it was discovered the whale was entangled in apparent commercial crab pot gear, researchers said.
The whale was towed to a remote island inside the mouth of the Columbia River.
A necropsy last week showed the whale was at the age when mothers with calves migrate north from their winter breeding and calving grounds in Baja to feeding areas primarily in Arctic waters. This migration is often close to shore and through commercial crabbing grounds.
“The whale was entangled in numerous areas including through the mouth and showed bruising around these areas indicating it was alive when it became entangled (and) had died as a result of the entanglement,” researchers said. “The whale was in excellent body condition with a large and oily blubber layer and even fat reserves around the heart all indicating it had been in good health prior to experiencing a more sudden death. Many of the internal organs were decomposed likely as a result of rapid decomposition due to the insulating blubber layer.”
Whale entanglements have increased in recent years along the West Coast, most dramatically with humpback whales off California, and have been of growing concern, according to Cascadia Research. Authorities are on the lookout for another gray whale first spotted off California that has its head stuck in a metal framework.
These incidents have prompted increased efforts to identify solutions as well as help disentangle whales when encountered still alive, the scientists said. Another threat to whales was highlighted by a boat strike on a well-known adult gray whale in Puget Sound, caught on video in April. Fortunately, that whale survived, though the full extent of its injuries are not yet known, researchers said.
There are an estimated 26,000 gray whales that migrate off the West Coast, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which calls their recovery “a great conservation success story.”
Gray whales were removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994.