Scientists plan to perform a necropsy on a gray whale that was found beached near Seattle on Thursday, the fifth malnourished whale of that species to have washed up on the West Coast in 10 days.
One of the gray whales washed up near Sooke on April 3, and was removed after people started taking pieces of its flesh home as souvenirs.
Lance Barrett-Lennard, head of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Cetacean Research Program, said it’s not uncommon for six or seven gray whales to die of starvation toward the end of their northern migration each spring.
He said the mammals fast for the entirety of their migration from Alaska to Mexico and back — a journey that begins in the fall and ends in the spring.
“If they have a poor feeding year, then this is the time of year when they run out of (steam) and we start to see mortalities,” he said.
“The number (of fatalities) this year are a little higher than usual but not catastrophically so.”
Barrett-Lennard added that humans likely had little impact on the food supply — or lack thereof — in the whales’ Alaskan feeding grounds. “There are about 20,000 gray whales and some of them are going to die naturally every year,” he said. “Some years are good and some are bad.”