Biologists search for clues in gray whale's death

Biologists search for clues in gray whale's death »Play Video

NEAR FLORENCE, Ore.--Biologists say the gray whale that washed ashore north of Heceta Head likely had nothing to do with the dead fin whale that beached nearby last month.

"I think it's a coincidence," said Jim Rice, the Oregon State University researcher who coordinates the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.  "Certainly if we get more whales in the next month or two, it will raise suspicions further."

An excavation crew buried the whale at the beach Friday morning, after biologists performed a necropsy. 

The whale washed ashore Thursday north of Heceta Head, about one mile from where a fin whale beached in early March.  Rice said the gray whale probably died Thursday morning or Wednesday evening, which is rare.

"Most cases, we find a dead whale on the beach, it's been dead for days, if not weeks and it's really decomposed quite a bit," said Rice.  "This is a fresh animal, and it gave us the opportunity to get some fresh tissues which is a very good opportunity for us scientifically."

 The 43-foot-long gray whale was extremely emaciated, which likely caused it to die, said Rice.  One of the adult female whale's ovaries was infected or cancerous, which contributed to her death.

Biologists took other tissue samples and removed the whale's ear.  Those samples will be sent to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at OSU.
"It's helpful to us to gather the ears inside the whale's head so we can look for signs if its been subjected to loud noise and if that contributed to the whale's demise," said Rice, adding there is no indication that happened yet.  Ears can also provide information about the whale's migration, said Rice.