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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Dead Gray Whale Found Under Seattle Ferry Terminal

A dead gray whale was found floating under a ferry terminal in downtown Seattle this week. On Thursday, word was spreading fast about the enormous creature.

Kathy Powers, a dock worker, ran down to take a look between ferry trips. 

“You see him? He’s right there! Ooh it’s so sad. Isn’t it sad?” she said. She lingered for a couple minutes, leaning over the rail to look at the 30-foot gray whale.

The whale floated between wood pylons underneath Slip 3. NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Michael Milstein said the whale was a female and it’s likely she had been dead for a week. It’s still too early to tell why she ended up there, and why she died.

Kathy Barth was walking her dog Handsome as she waited for the ferry. That’s how she bumped into a slew of reporters and saw the whale. “The whale’s stuck in the pilings. It’s terrible,” she said.

Barth and her husband had just delivered live sea urchins to Uwajimaya in Seattle’s International District and they were on their way home to Brinnon, Washington. “I wonder what’s going on with the pollution. And is it related to Bertha or why? What happened? It’s an awfully sad thing.”

Later in the day, the ferry service moved the whale from the dock to a nearby location. Now, it’s waiting for biologists to get to it to perform a necropsy.

John Calambokidis with Cascadia Research Collective will be one of those biologists. He said most gray whales die of starvation, ship strike, or from entanglement and drowning in nets. Pollution isn’t the most common cause, but this whale will be tested for it.

“We had a gray whale stranded in West Seattle a couple years ago and had quite a bit of garbage,” Calambokidis said. “You know, plastic bags, sweat pants, towels, golf balls: All these things in its stomach because it had fed in fairly polluted waters.”

He said six to eight dead gray whales are found in Washington every year. But he said it’s unusual for a gray whale to show up in such a prominent location.

Downtown Seattle creates a special challenge when it comes to disposal, Calambokidis said. He said it’s best to let a whale carcass decompose naturally, but that’s not possible in an urban area.

Other options are to sink the whale, tow it to another location in the water or lug it onto land.