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Dead fin whale comes ashore on Washington coast

Yesterday, a team of biologists from Cascadia Research and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Mammal Investigations Unit examined a 68-foot fin whale that washed ashore at an Ocean City beach.

The adult male whale was moderately decomposed with most of the skin missing. The lower jaw of a fin whale has an asymmetrical coloration of the baleen (black on the left side and creamy white on the right side), a physical characteristic of this species which aided in the identification of the whale. There was significant bruising and evidence of blunt force trauma consistent with a ship strike.

Fin whales, an endangered species, are the second largest animal in the world - second only to the blue whale. Calves measure 14-20 feet at birth and weigh approximately two tons. It is estimated that an adult fin whale weighs one ton per foot in length. They are very fast swimmers, but were not able to outrun modern whaling vessels which hunted them to near extinction. Numbers have increased since protection by the International Whaling Commission was enacted in 1966.

Dangers still exist for fin whales, however, as ships move through krill feeding grounds where the whales forage near the surface - easy victims for ship strikes. This is the second fin whale to wash ashore this year on Washington beaches, both attributed to ship strikes.

Responses such as the one yesterday by members of NOAA’s Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network rely on critical funds from the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant. Recently Prescott funding was slashed from $4 million (for the entire nation) to a mere $1.4 million. Additionally, it has been eliminated completely from the proposed 2014 Federal Budget. These grants fund the scientific research necessary to monitor the health of our marine ecosystem and ensure timely response by groups all across the US to protect both marine mammals and the public. Read more about this essential program and how to contact your congressional representatives to restore Prescott funds.
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