U.S. West Coast residents asked to lend private beaches for rotting whales amid die-off

So many whales have washed ashore that authorities are running out of space to let them decompose

Officials examine a decomposing whale that washed ashore, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Port Ludlow, Wash. (AP Photo/Mario Rivera)

So many grey whales are dying off the U.S. West Coast that scientists and volunteers dealing with the putrid carcasses have an urgent request for coastal residents: Lend us your private beaches so these ocean giants can rot in peace.

The number of dead whales washing ashore in Washington state alone — 29 as of this week — means almost every isolated public beach has been used. Authorities are now scrambling to find remote stretches of sand that are privately owned, with proprietors who don’t mind hosting a rotting creature that’s bigger than a school bus and has a stench to match its size.

“The preferred option is, at all times, that they just be allowed to decompose naturally,” said John Calambokidis, a research biologist with the Olympia, Washington-based Cascadia Research. “But it gets harder and harder to find locations where they can rot without creating a problem. This is a new wrinkle.”

At least 81 grey whale corpses have washed ashore in California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska since Jan. 1. If tallies from Mexico and Canada are added, the number of stranded grey whales hits 160 and counting, said Michael Milstein, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries office.

U.S. scientists last month declared the die-off an “unusual mortality event,” a designation that triggered additional resources to respond to the deaths and launch an investigation.

The first private-beach owners to respond, a Washington state couple, received their carcass earlier this month. Volunteers with the so-called “stranding network” — a coalition of nonprofits, research institutions and government agencies — attached a rope to the dead whale’s tail and used a motorboat to tow it 3 miles (4.8 kilometres) along the coast to the couple’s beach, where they anchored it to tree stumps.

Mario Rivera and his veterinarian wife, Stefanie Worwag, asked their neighbour’s permission first and are using copious amounts of lime to speed decomposition and reduce the stench. They visit the carcass daily and consider it a scientific opportunity.

“It’s decomposing nicely. There’ve been a couple of days this week when I was out there mowing and I was like, ‘Ooof,’” Rivera said of smell from the 40-foot (12-metre) adult male whale sitting 150 yards (137 metres) from his house.

“But it’s only temporary. It’s only going to be smelling for about a month — and after that, the smell’s gone.”

Since the Port Townsend, Washington, couple welcomed the carcass, 15 more private individuals have signed on to do the same, mostly in remote areas around the Salish Sea in far northwest Washington state, Milstein said.

The number of dead whales found in Washington state this year has already surpassed the tally for 2000, when the last significant die-off of grey whales occurred on the West Coast. In Oregon, five dead grey whales have been documented as of this week, more than in all of last year. California has seen 37, and 10 have come ashore in Alaska.

Experts estimate the washed-up whales represent just 10 per cent of the total number of the dead, with the rest sinking into the sea unnoticed by humans.

Gillian Flaccus, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Chart shows the unusual spike in mortality events from grey whales in 2019.

Just Posted

VIDEO: North Island Bantam Eagles are ready for playoffs

The bantams will be playing their first two playoff games in Port McNeill this weekend.

Bradshaw’s Photo Highlight: The top of Mt. Wolfenden

“A few shots at different focal lengths and then I was back inside editing with a coffee in hand”

Check out a new future at career and education fair in Comox

Event today features booths from more than 40 employers and educational institutions

Book reading: The Blue Haired Girl

Adam Hayes will be at the Book Nook (inside Cafe Guido) Feb. 1 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

Veteran Island journalist battles cancer through pioneering treatment

Vancouver Island rallies around JR Rardon and family during stay in Seattle

VIDEO: Mass coronavirus quarantines seen in China won’t happen in Canada, authorities say

‘If a case comes here, and it is probably … it will still be business as normal’

Province’s oldest practising lawyer shares advice at her 100th birthday party

Firefighters bring Constance Isherwood a cake with 100 birthday candles

Vernon woman suing McDonald’s for spilled coffee

Woman seeking nearly $10K, says employee failed to put lid on properly

Diners’ health tax not catching on in B.C., restaurant group says

Small businesses look for options to cover employer health tax

B.C. comic wins judgment after club owner slaps cellphone out of his hands

Incident happened last summer when Garrett Clark was performing in Abbotsford

Owner surrenders dog suffering from days-old gunshot wound to B.C. SPCA

The dog was also found to be emaciated and suffering from a flea infestation

B.C. man dies after police called for ‘firearms injury’ in rural Alberta

Victim is 30-year-old Greater Victoria man, say police

Most Read