SEATTLE – A young gray whale died Wednesday after becoming wedged between pilings near a naval base in Puget Sound (search), the third whale death in the vicinity this season.
West Coast (search) grays are making their annual migration from their winter breeding ground off Mexico to their summer feeding ground off Alaska.
Marine mammal biologists estimated the whale was between 25 feet and 30 feet long and weighed about 18,000 pounds. It was thought to be a little older than a yearling.
The whale was still alive when it was found Tuesday night by employees at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which is west of Seattle across the sound.
Cascadia Research (search) scientist John Calambokidis said the whale's awkward position in the pilings indicated it had not been in good condition beforehand. He noted that the animal was emaciated.
The incoming tide helped officials lift the carcass out of the pilings and tow it to a nearby beach. The Cascadia research institute will perform a necropsy Thursday. Afterward, the animal's body will be weighed down with concrete blocks and sunk at sea.
Scientists believe that as the gray whale population increases, more are venturing to inland waters to feed. There have been an unusual number of sightings of gray whales in the south sound in recent years.