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whale necropsy

"Sentinels of the Sound" beach cleanup June 14th

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Make a difference and join us to remove litter from Alki Beach this season. Seal Sitters, PAWS Wildlife Center and the Alki Community Center are joining forces to sponsor a beach cleanup on Saturday morning, June 14th from 9:30am - 12:30pm. Please RSVP.

Prior to dispersing volunteers with materials to pick up trash, Seal Sitters and PAWS Wildlife Center will speak briefly at 9:30 about the dangers of marine debris to wildlife and the difficult rehab of harbor seal pups.

All marine life is endangered by marine debris and pollution. Many, many thousands of marine animals and sea birds die each year from derelict fishing gear, marine debris and pollution. They are entangled and drowned by nets and gear. Strangled and contaminated by plastics. Sea birds choke on plastic and limbs are severed.

This year's beach cleanup events will once again be in honor of seal pup Sandy who was rescued from a West Seattle beach in August of 2011, rehabilitated at PAWS Wildlife Center, and then released back to the wild in January of 2012. Sandy was found dead 66 days later, entangled in derelict fishing gear. The event is also in honor of the juvenile gray whale that died on Arroyos beach. The necropsy revealed only human trash in the whale’s stomach.

Please join us to help save marine life! For more info and to RSVP, please click here.

Lend a hand for beach cleanup and save marine life

Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network and the Alki Community Council (ACC) are teaming up to organize a beach cleanup on Monday, May16th from 9am-noon. Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA NW Stranding Expert, will speak briefly at 9 about the dangers that human trash and marine debris poses to all marine life, from the tiniest of invertebrates to the largest of whales. As many of you may remember, the necropsy of the gray whale that stranded and died on a West Seattle beach last April revealed a stomach void of food, but full of trash - plastic bags, funnel, golf ball, duct tape, sweat pants. For a complete list of items (courtesy of Cascadia Research who led the whale necropsy), click here. Trash that ends up on our beaches inevitably ends up in our marine waters - causing injuries and death to marine life, often by suffocation or strangulation. For more in-depth information on marine pollution, please visit the pollution page on Seal Sitters’ website, Toxic Seals - Our Polluted Waters.


     

NOAA has produced several children’s activity booklets about marine debris that are available here for download: Protect the Ocean and Understanding Marine Debris. Both contain puzzles and illustrations that help kids understand the importance of keeping the beaches and marine waters free of trash - so that sea life will be here for many generations to come!

Thanks to the Americorps (Washington Reading Corps of South King County) volunteers who will be participating in the beach cleanup as well as members of ACC and Seal Sitters. This event is open to the public and all those interested in making a difference for the environment. If you, your group, or class would like to lend a hand, meet us at the Statue of Liberty across from Starbucks (Alki Ave SW near 61st) at 9am. If you have questions, please contact Larry Carpenter @ 206-938-0887. Special thanks to Carol Baker and Colleen Hackett of Seattle Parks for providing cleanup tools. Tully’s, Starbucks and Pioneer Coffee are all generously donating coffee to keep our volunteers warm and energized throughout the morning. We hope to see you there!

Early morning wake-up call

     
On her 6am beach sweep this morning looking for seals, our photographer and first responder was shocked and angered to find Alki Beach by the bathhouse littered with trash. Four barrels were surrounded by garbage - paper plates smeared with ketchup and mustard, cups, plastic bags, plastic forks, plastic coke bottles. Seagulls were picking through the litter trying to find food. Small plastic ketchup packets were strewn over the sidewalk and beach. Our volunteer picked up all the trash that was scattered on the beach and along the water’s edge. The irony did not escape her when she picked up paper wrappers labeled “Spud’s Fish and Chips” on virtually the same spot of beach where our first seal pup, Spud (named for the restaurant), hauled out.

     
After the high profile and disturbing necropsy of the gray whale whose stomach was filled with human trash (ranging from sweat pants and plastic bags to a golf ball - photo at left), one would hope that it would have been a wake-up call to people of the dangers of polluting our waters - and the tragic impact it has on our marine mammals and other wildlife. Countless sea birds have died worldwide with stomachs full of plastic bottle caps. Litter that is on the sidewalk and beaches blows into Puget Sound and Elliott Bay, becoming marine debris that harms sea life. There is a swirling mass of plastic trash twice the size of Texas in the Pacific ocean, dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Please consider getting involved to help keep our West Seattle beaches and coves free of dangerous litter. Last spring, after reading on our website that seals and other marine mammals ingest plastic bags and suffer an agonizing death, second grader Etienne and her Bush Middle School class organized a beach cleanup field trip to Alki Beach.
     
Perhaps other local schools would like to follow suit. If you run or walk along Alki with friends, take a few minutes before or after your exercise and pick up some litter. Parks Dept. can only do so much and they don’t have staff on early weekend mornings or in the evenings. If you have a business on Alki (or are involved with a local school or civic group) and would like to work with Seal Sitters to organize “Adopt Alki Beach” for a day a week/month, please contact us. Something needs to be done now to protect our wildlife from pollution.

Gray whale necropsy reveals trash inside stomach

     
Yesterday the necropsy results were released for the gray whale that stranded in West Seattle. The Northwest Stranding Network team that performed the necropsy found an unusual amount of human trash in the stomach of the whale - plastic bags, surgical gloves, sweat pants, other plastic and fabric pieces, and a golf ball. As part of the Stranding Network, Seal Sitters’ first responder was invited to help document, however, could not publicly discuss the necropsy until the official results were released. Read Cascadia Research’s necropsy summary and findings here and a full list of items found in the whale’s stomach.

The public should give many thanks to the necropsy team for performing this incredibly important and physically strenuous work. Due to their dedication and efforts, we are now aware of the role that pollution may have played in the death of this whale - as it indeed impacts all our marine life. Plastics that end up in our waters never go away - they eventually end up as micro particles which absorb contaminants and enter the marine food chain, causing deformities and disease. It is well known that our local seals and orcas are laced with pcbs and other toxic chemicals. Depletion of food sources caused by commercial overfishing and pollution can be reversed by getting involved. You CAN make a difference - pick up trash on the beach, don’t purchase seafood on the seafood watch list and ask your grocer not to sell it, help clean up the Sound.

As an observer, our volunteer was stunned at the amount of trash that was removed from the whale - and overwhelmed with sadness that human impact had, in any way, contributed to this whale’s demise. Please learn more about our polluted waters and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an oceanic swirling mass of plastic twice the size of Texas, on Seal Sitters’ website. Educate people about the dangers of pollution and its tragic impact on our wildlife now and for generations to come. Make a commitment that this magnificent whale’s life was not given in vain.

See news video here.
Read Lynda Mape’s excellent article in the Seattle Times.

Gray whale strands in West Seattle

     
A male (initially thought to be female) sub-adult gray whale stranded and died on a private beach in West Seattle late Wednesday afternoon. Yesterday NOAA stranding expert Kristin Wilkinson and other experts completed an initial evaluation of the whale. After review of photos from the preliminary assessment, Jessie Huggins of Cascadia Research has been able to determine that the whale is indeed male. Both male and female whales have mammary teats, but Jessie’s many years of work with gray whales enabled her to clarify the sex. There were no obvious injuries or cause of death; however, the male was underweight. Shown at right, Kristin takes initial measurements of the mammal’s length - approximately 33 feet, possibly more. The length will help researchers estimate the whale’s age. Gray whales can grow to 50 feet long, weighing 80,000 pounds. For many years, the lifespan of the mysterious gray whale has been gauged to be between 45-60 years, although one whale was estimated to be 75-80 years of age at death. New research has led to the belief that their lifespan can be well over 100 years.

The whale is being towed to an undisclosed location where a necropsy (tentatively scheduled for Sunday) will be led by Cascadia Research and WDFW biologists. The body will be left to decompose over time and nourish the ecosystem. A local college will then recover the skeletal remains for educational purposes. View a photo gallery.

UPDATE: 4/20 NECROPSY RESULTS REVEALED
For the disturbing necropsy results on this gray whale, please click here.

Links of interest:
Seal Sitter founder and renowned nature writer Brenda Peterson co-authored (with native American Linda Hogan) the book, Sightings: The Gray Whale’s Mysterious Journey.

Seal Sitter scientific advisor, Dr. Toni Frohoff, is featured in a New York Times Magazine article about the gray whale birthing lagoons in Baja, Mexico.

SAD UPDATE: According to Cascadia Research, the gray whale seen feeding in West Seattle waters (not the whale discussed in the above post) on March 27th has been photographically matched to a 40 foot adult whale that died on April 11th near Fidalgo Island. Read the report here.

Related news:
Gray whales wash up in area waters (Vancouver Sun)
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