Pierce County Gray Whale
On July 26, 2005, a yearling gray whale became lodged underneath the North Pier at the abandoned University Place, WA Chambers Creek gravel mine and unfortunately expired. It washed onto the beach and was tied up to some old pilings (photo) to allow for necropsy and salvage operations.
Our firm became involved within a couple of days, in order to recover and preserve the skull and skeleton for Pierce County to use in its education and outreach programs. On Friday, August 5, we examined the carcass, which had begun to decompose rapidly. We extricated the cranium, one mandible, and two upper jaw bones before having to leave the site due to a locked gate. The skull was over five feet long and the mandible almost four feet long. We secreted the material in the driftwood on the beach with the intent of returning the following Monday to complete the removal (see photo below).
Upon returning to the beach on the following Tuesday, delayed by contract negotiations, we found that the skull bones were missing, along with two ribs that had been removed from the animal. Our disappointment was palpable and as strong as the smell coming from the decaying whale. However, we proceeded to salvage the rest of the skeleton over the next couple of days, hoping to somehow locate the missing parts and reunite them with the skeleton. Even so, we have begun the long and arduous task of cleaning and preservation of this important specimen.
Unfortunately, without the skull, Pierce County wasn't interested in the preservation of the skeleton, since display without a skull didn't offer the same appeal to them. The goal was to have been to use the skeleton and skull as a teaching tool for the schoolchildren of the county, perhaps even having the children reassemble the skeleton in its natural position, learning teamwork, anatomy, whale biology, and physics all at the same time. Those opportunities are now, sadly, lost.
So we hope that with publication of the newspaper article in the News Tribune, the person or persons who unknowingly removed the skull from the beach will return it to the county and contact either Anne-marie Marshall-Dody at 253-798-4140 or Bob Bicknell of Beacon Hill Biological at 360-749-9814. No questions will be asked and no repercussions will follow, since we are only interested in using this unique opportunity to help enrich the educational opportunities of Pierce County youth, and contribute to whale research around the world. Having one of Puget Sound's most majestic marine mammals on display is still the goal. Thanks for your help!
5/1/06 Postscript: Since the newspaper article appeared in the Tacoma, WA, paper, we received a call from the Ocean Shores Interpretive Center, Head docent, Diane Beers, who had a gray whale skull in their possession. It was in pieces, languishing in a storage facility and was extra to their needs. It was almost exactly the same size as the specimen described above. So with the cooperation of the National Marine Fisheries Service, we were able to transfer possession from the Interpretive Center to Beacon Hill and now plan to mate this beautiful specimen with the skeleton we already have been working on. We'll keep you posted on the status of the skeleton rebuild, so check back often.