Whale washes ashore on Bainbridge Island, fifth on Washington coast this year

The carcass of a large gray whale washed ashore on Manitou Beach Tuesday, continuing what some have called “an unusual die-off” of the species along the Washington coast.

The whale appeared to be an adult and had been dead for a while, according to authorities.

A team from the nonprofit Cascadia Research Collective reportedly visited the carcass to take photos and samples of its skin and blubber Tuesday, and representatives from the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife were present early Wednesday to conduct a limited necropsy before the whale was set to be removed later that day.

The carcass was slated to be towed away at high tide by the Bainbridge Island Police Department’s Maritime Unit, working with Fish & Wildlife, and removed to a specially chosen spot on McNeil Island, where it would be left to decompose, said BIPD Sgt. Ben Sias.

A sizable crowd gathered Wednesday morning, despite ongoing social distance mandates from government officials in light of the current pandemic, and the increasingly pungent odor of the carcass itself. Many took photographs and posed with the whale as Fish & Wildlife officials took measurements and samples.

Though a rare occurrence on Bainbridge, the whale’s death is unfortunately not so novel in the state at large.

According to the Seattle Times, “Researchers are trying to understand why so many gray whales have been found dead and stranded on beaches since the spring of 2019. More than 200 gray whales were stranded last year in an Unusual Mortality Event — about double the usual rate for a migration year — including 34 that stranded in Washington state waters alone.”

Reportedly, there have not been as many stranded whales this year, though the numbers are still higher than normal; more than 20 strandings have been reported coastwide, including five in Washington.

“At this time last year approximately 55 gray whales had stranded coastwide, and by the end of the migration, 215 whales lost their lives from Mexico to Canada during the entire migration season,” according to the Seattle Times.

Island police said the carcass’ arrival had been actively documented by curious onlookers via various online and social media outlets, with at least a few children climbing the dead whale for the sake of a photo op.