Photo: John Weldon/NOAA
Researchers from the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network’s northern Oregon and southern Washington section completed a necropsy Sunday on a yearling male gray whale that stranded on southern Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula after becoming entangled in lines from a crab trap.
The ropes from the trap wound through the whale’s mouth, around one of its pectoral flippers and its tail, and likely caused the whale’s death, the research team from Portland State University and Cascadia Research Collective concluded. The young whale suffered extensive hemorrhaging where the ropes had rubbed against its body.
The whale stranded on a remote beach on the Long Beach Peninsula’s Ledbetter Point in recent days and was reported to the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network on Friday. NOAA Fisheries coordinates the network, which is made up of non-profits, state agencies, biologists and volunteer organizations along the West Coast.
“The whale was in good body condition,” said Debbie Duffield, a professor of biology at Portland State University who coordinates involvement in the Stranding Network. “The entanglement appears to have caused its death.”
The lines entangling the whale were attached to the buoy from a crab trap, which carried a tag issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. NOAA Fisheries will work with WDFW to identify the owner of the trap to learn more about where the trap was located and where and for how long the whale was entangled.
NOAA Fisheries has tracked increased numbers of whale entanglements on the West Coast in recent years.
NOAA Fisheries has provided funding to support efforts by West Coast fishermen, marine mammal researchers and others to develop new gear and practices that may help reduce the risk of whale entanglements. An Oregon Whale Entanglement Working Group convened by Oregon Sea Grant has also been seeking solutions. Information from entanglements such as this one may help inform the discussions, Duffield said.
NOAA Fisheries has joined state fish and wildlife departments on the West Coast to issue a best practices guide for crab fishing to reduce the chances of entanglements. Humpback whales and gray whales were the most common species to become entangled.
West Coast gray whales are part of the eastern North Pacific stock, which is considered fully recovered from historic whaling and was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 1994. The eastern North Pacific stock is estimated at about 20,000 whales.