Dead whale draws crowds to Puget Sound beach

Posted at: 04/15/2013 4:35 PM
By DOUG ESSER

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(AP) SEATTLE - The Washington state town of Burien is stuck with the job of removing the reeking carcass of a fin whale that was apparently hit and killed by a ship in the Pacific and dragged into Puget Sound on the bow of a red hull.

The dead whale became a huge attraction over the weekend at Seahurst Park with people crowding around for a picture and to touch the rubbery skin.

Because of the health risk, the city is posting signs urging people to stay away and not climb on whale, said Myron Clinton, maintenance and operations supervisor for Burien parks.

"Right now, it’s pretty crazy," he said of the crowd, despite the smell of a whale that had been dead for days before it washed up Saturday on the Puget Sound shore about 2 miles west of Sea-Tac Airport.

Whale skeletons are sometimes preserved for display or educational purposes, but this whale was torn in half by the ship and no one wants the skull, Clinton said. That left the city with the job of removing tons of rotting marine mammal.

"It’s pretty strong smelling now," Clinton said Monday, "and only getting worse."

Clinton was talking to contractors about burying the whale or taking it to a rendering plant. It might have to be cut up to be moved.

"That would be pretty messy and not pretty," he said. The cost is expected to run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The fin whale is a federal endangered species. Named for a dorsal fin, it’s the second-largest whale species after the blue whale and lives in the deep ocean. About the only time one shows up in Puget Sound is on the bow of a ship.

Trauma to the body and what appears to be red paint are sure signs the whale was struck, said John Calambokidis, a research biologist with the Olympia-based Cascadia Research Collective, which examined the carcass with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Science Center.

Only about 52 feet of what was a 65-foot whale remained.

It’s the 10th fin whale carcass in Washington waters since 2002 and the eighth with evidence of a ship strike, Calambokidis said.

"It’s part of a growing pattern up and down the West Coast of ship strikes becoming a bigger issue for larger species, especially blue whales and fin whales," he said.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)