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

 

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

Just Posted

Family dog dies in Chilliwack house fire

Cause of Ashwell Road blaze on Nov. 16 considered accidental

Chilliwack Cultural Centre invites large-format artists to display work in lobby

Applications for the centre’s lobby display are being accepted until Dec. 2

Toy drive brings in gifts, money for Ann Davis Transition Society in Chilliwack

Hundreds of toys and $1,600 in cash was donated to the society during its fundraiser Saturday

Volunteers remove invasive species of plants along creek in Chilliwack

Fraser Valley Conservancy’s stream-side restoration event took place at Luckakuck Creek in Chilliwack

PHOTO: Rain in the forecast Sunday, sun expected by Tuesday in Chilliwack

Chilliwack has been treated to fairly warm and dry weather over the past two weeks

VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Pat at the Chilliwack SPCA

Pat is a two-year-old rabbit who’s up for adoption at the Chilliwack SPCA

B.C. woman ordered to return dog to ex-boyfriend for $2,000

After the two broke up, documents state, they agree to share custody of the dog, named Harlen

Abbotsford police chief mulls more enforcement of homeless lawbreakers

‘When all else has failed we have to hold people accountable,’ Police Chief Mike Serr tells council

Striking Vancouver hotel workers, employer reach ‘tentative’ agreement

Employees of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia have been out at picket lines since talks broke off on Sept. 21

RCMP cut free activists chained to Kelowna bank, placed under arrest

The group is protesting Interior Savings Credit Union’s support of Kelowna Ribfest

Cold, stormy winter forecast across much of Canada, The Weather Network predicts

In British Columbia temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation will be just below normal

Cell phone tickets worse tax grab than speed limits, SenseBC says

Distracted driving statistics questioned as B.C. tickets pile up

Security camera records hatchet attack on Langley store owner

Target escaped uninjured, but was ‘upset’ by incident

PHOTOS: Snoozing seal pup captures attention at White Rock Pier

Dozens of seals spent the day at White Rock’s iconic structure

Most Read