Image Source: NOAA/Mario Rivera
Since the beginning of 2019, 30 gray whales have stranded in Washington and more than 70 along the West Coast. The high number of strandings has caused the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) and prompted a scientific investigation.
With Washington seeing the most stranded whales they have in almost 20 years, NOAA fisheries are asking residents for help. The UME has caused so many strandings that the whales have nowhere left to decompose so they are asking waterfront property owners to volunteer their property for whale decomposition.
Mario Rivera and Stefanie Worwag recently decided to volunteer and allowed marine mammal stranding responders to tow a dead 40-foot gray whale to their property. The couple thought it would be an interesting opportunity to see the whale decompose before being recycled back into the marine ecosystem.
The couple who volunteers for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center moved to the Pacific Northwest about three years ago and is hoping other residents will join them in volunteering. Rivera recently told KING5-TV that the smell “isn’t that bad.”
Kristin Wilkinson, the Northwest Coordinator for the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network said the organization was grateful to the couple for their support and is testing ways to help speed up decomposition. The stranding network is experimenting with hydrated lime to help cover the smell and see if it speeds up decomposition.
“The lime appears to be working,” Rivera said.
Having a place for the whale to decompose is important for researchers to understand the cause of death of the whales. Many of the whales that have shown up along the West Coast have been skinny and malnourished. Worwag, a veterinarian, helped with a necropsy on the decomposing whale and found that it was severely emaciated.
While Rivera, Worwag and the stranding network understand the hesitancy by homeowners to volunteer their property, they’re hoping others begin to volunteer. The last UME which started in 1999 lasted two years and strandings continued throughout that entire period.
Read more and learn how landowners can volunteer their property here.