NOAA asking for waterfront property owners to house dead whales

Photo courtesy: Mario Rivera

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Wash. -- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries is asking waterfront landowners to volunteer their properties to house decomposing gray whales up to 40 feet long.

The call for help from NOAA comes after dozens of stranded gray whales have washed up in Washington state this year.

Mario Rivera and his wife Stefanie Worwag volunteered to host a whale carcass on their property near Port Hadlock.

"I’m a veterinarian. So, for me – it’s just interesting to see how fast it goes. What kind of animal critters it attracts. And I helped with the necropsy, as well. So, it’s a whole different ballgame than a dog or cat," Worwag told KOMO News on Sunday night.

"The smell isn’t that bad, but we do have our moments," Rivera said. "But the nice thing is – it’s temporary. Maybe about a month or so and then after that – the smell goes away."

A gray whale carcass was towed to their property two weeks ago.

It's one of more than 75 gray whale strandings on the west coast just this year, according to NOAA. About 30 of them have become stranded in Washington state alone. That's the highest amount in about 20 years, per NOAA.

NOAA Fisheries says it’s run out of places to take them, so it’s looking for more landowners to volunteers their waterfront properties.

"I think we both were just interested. Let’s see," Worwag said. "We’ve never had a whale there. How long does it take? What do we have to expect?"

NOAA Fisheries says many of the stranded gray whales they’ve seen were skinny and malnourished, which means some of them likely didn’t get enough food during their last summer feeding season in the arctic.

"The whole thing’s a learning process," Rivera said. "With this one when we did the neocropsy, we found a lot of eelgrass in its stomach. And eelgrass is not part of their diet, which means they were basically desperation feeding, desperation eating. It’s like a starving human eating grass to stay alive and it can’t. That's the very sad part."

Rivera and Worwag say it’ll likely take several months for the whale carcass on their property to fully decompose.

It's a process they’d volunteer to host again.

"Yeah, we’d do it again. Yes," Rivera said. "Without hesitation."

A NOAA spokesman says properties are needed in the inland waters of Puget sound. The dead whales are towed and placed on the beach so that a necropsy can be performed. The carcasses are then secured so they don't float away.

Willing landowners should contact Michael Milstein at michael.milstein@noaa.gov or (503) 231-6268.

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