The sinking Wednesday of the 53-foot fin whale that was found dead last week in Boundary Pass went as smoothly as could be expected, said Albert Shepard, curator of The Whale Museum.
"It's nice to have the right tools for the job," he said after the task was completed.
The tools consisted of a 104-foot-long US Army Corps of Engineers barge with a crane sporting a 70-foot boom. The barge also carried nine tons of concrete highway barriers used to sink the 40-ton whale carcass.
It helped that this was the fourth whale the experienced crew of the MV Puget has disposed of.
After the carcass was unhooked from a mooring near Shaw Island, the barge towed it to a drop site in the San Juans, where the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs and the museum will study its decomposition with an underwater camera.
At the site, the barge crew attached the highway barriers to a cable connected to the carcass. The crane operator lifted the barriers over the water, and when the signal was given, released them--quickly pulling the carcass down. A process that had taken several days to arrange was over within minutes.
Shepard, museum Research Director Rich Osborne, and Marine Technologist David Duggins of the Friday Harbor Labs helped in the operation. Earlier, Osborne had received permission from applicable government agencies and utility companies for the location of the drop site. The US Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, participated in the operation because it is their responsibility to keep waterways navigable, said Osborne.
After the male, sub-adult fin whale was found dead it was towed to shore near the Friday Harbor Labs where a necropsy was performed. Led by Osborne, who is head of the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a team of regional experts and local whale researchers assisted in the procedure. Veterinarian Joe Gaydos of the Marine Ecosystem Health Program and a member of the stranding network said it appeared the whale died from being hit by a ship.
A whale that is struck by a ship offshore is sometimes carried into the inland waters on the bow.
Adult fin whale males, in the northern hemisphere, measure up to 78 feet, while females are slightly larger. Weight for both sexes is between 50-70 tons. Fin whales are found in all oceans of the world and were common in the Salish Sea before the turn of the century. By 1910 regional commercial whaling had extirpated them from the inland waters.