Last week we raised the dead, guiding a seine net full of gray whale bones to shore with the help of a pile of barrels, hardy swimmers, some borrowed boats, and a gaggle of great volunteers. Collectively we breathed a sigh of relief knowing that all our work and worry had paid off and this young whale could become part of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s educational programs and exhibits.
This is the story of how this gray whale got from here:
As the Port Townsend Marine Science Center covers response for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network in eastern Jefferson County, Executive Director Janine Boire was contacted to see if we wanted to collect the whale for its skeleton. She said, “Yes!”
In six days, we planned and equipped a team to wrap and sink the 29-foot, 13,000-plus-pound whale. On May 18, the entire Marine Science Center staff, AmeriCorps members, and volunteers prepped and wrapped the whale in re-purposed Spectra salmon netting donated by a local fisherman. The whale's pectoral fins and baleen were removed before wrapping. She was then towed off shore where her body would be naturally decomposed by benthic organisms, keeping the nutrients in the Salish Sea.
Gray whale bone retrieval took two days — one day to float the whale by adding flotation at a morning low tide, then towing it to shore on the evening high tide, and one day to scrub, label, and move the bones to a greenhouse to dry.
Photos 1 courtesy of NOAA | Photo 2 & 4-9 by Marine Science Center | Photo 3 & 10-12 by Wendy Feltham
BETSY CARLSON is the Citizen Science Coordinator at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Check out our citizen science projects and learn how to get involved.
Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline and training for the team of Marine Science Center volunteer responders has been funded by a highly competitive grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Unfortunately, funds are very limited and this year our grant was not renewed. We urgently need your help to protect the future of our marine mammals in the Salish Sea. Please donate today to help us raise $10,000 for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by August 31.