An endangered fin whale was found dead in Commencement Bay on Friday, May 12th

An endangered fin whale, the second largest animal in the world next to the blue whale, was found dead in Commencement Bay on Friday, May 12th. Sadly the whale was hit by a vessel, likely along the outer coast or while the large freighter was coming into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the animal was carried on the front of the vessel until it reached the Tacoma area.

Many partners pulled together to make a complete necropsy (animal autopsy) possible so that we could learn as much as possible about the life and death of this endangered and beautiful whale. NOAA, WDFW and Department of Natural Resources, as well as Bandito Charters, helped get the large whale to a beach for examination. No easy task moving a 50 ton animal! From there Cascadia Research, WDFW, MaST Center Aquarium, UW Researchers, and SR3 teamed up to do a complete necropsy on the animal to determine where it was hit, how old it was, what it was eating, and much more! Many samples were sent to laboratories for toxin analysis, microscopic evaluation, and other diagnostics. The complete results will be available in the coming months.

The gross necropsy confirmed that the whale was hit by a vessel and was alive at the time of impact. Necropsies are an amazing window into ocean health and the health of a species. From the necropsy we were able to determine additional information including that the whale was a 52 ft juvenile (adults are even bigger!!!) male. He had a full belly of krill and was in good body condition.

In the last 15 years, Cascadia Research has documented 11 other dead fin whales in Washington. Of those now 12 whales, 10 were boat strike victims. Vessel strikes are a major threat to large whales such as blue and fin whales that commonly feed along the surface and may be unaware of an approaching vessel while they are foraging. NOAA and many partners along the west coast have been working hard to reduce vessel strikes at the major ports - Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.