British Columbia

Washington state waterfront owners asked to take dead whales to rot

So many dead grey whales have washed up this year that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries department says it has run out of places to take them.

Fisheries officials say 'unusual mortality event' creating an excess of giant carcasses

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries says so many grey whale carcasses have washed up this year they've run out of locations where they can be left to decompose. (Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press)

Owners of a least one Washington state waterfront home have said yes to a request to allow a dead grey whale to decompose on their property.

So many grey whale carcasses have washed up this year that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries says it has run out of places to take them.

In response, the agency has asked landowners to volunteer property as a disposal site for the carcasses. By doing so, landowners can support the natural process of the marine environment, and skeletons left behind can be used for educational purposes, officials said.

Students observe the body of a grey whale after it washed up on the coast of Washington's Olympic Peninsula in May. (Gene Johnson/The Associated Press)

But the carcasses can be up to 12 metres long. That's a lot to decay, and it could take months. Landowner Mario Rivera of Port Hadlock, Wash., told KING5-TV that the smell is intermittent and "isn't that bad."

"It is really a unique opportunity to have this here on the beach and monitor it and see how fast it goes," said his wife, Stefanie Worwag.

The federal agency said that about 30 dead whales have been discovered on Washington's coast this year, the most in two decades.

A team from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., completes a necropsy on a grey whale stranded at Angel Island State Park near San Francisco in May. (Cara Field/The Marine Mammal Center/NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response)

On the U.S. West coast, about 70 whales have been found dead this year along California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, the most since 2000. About five were found on British Columbia beaches.

Still, that's a small fraction of the total number because most sink or wash up in remote areas and are unrecorded.

NOAA Fisheries late last month declared the die-off an "unusual mortality event," and provided additional resources to respond to the deaths.

"With the unusual mortality event of these grey whales, we know more whales will be coming in, or there is a high likelihood that more whales will die within Puget Sound and out on the coast," said Port Townsend Marine Science Center Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson.

Officials say the grey whale population remains strong at about 27,000.

Lime is being used to help break down the whale carcass on the beach near where Rivera and Worwag live.

"The lime appears to be working," Rivera said. "It is decomposing nicely. I think."

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