Stranded Baby Humpback Whale Dies As Reports Surface Whales Protecting Animals From Killer Orcas

Sadly, one of the ocean’s most revered creatures has died.

According to a King5 News report, a baby humpback whale perished on a West Seattle shore on Sunday morning. Officials with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (or NOAA) say the juvenile whale were stranded for a time, and there were hopes of a rescue. However, efforts to free help the whale back into open waters failed.

Sources investigating the whale’s death say the young humpback was found trapped in the shallows at a location near Seattle’s Fauntleroy Ferry dock in the early morning hours. People gathered near the ferry terminal banned together and tried to assist the stranded animal.

Beachgoers’ soaked blanket in water to help regulate the whale’s temperature. However, their efforts were in vain; the animal died hours later, according to NOAA and Cascadia Research Group spokespersons.

It’s unclear what caused the humpback whale to die, but tissue samples were taken that may reveal a death cause. Scientists observed the carcass covered with “whale ice,” a sign that indicates poor health.

Jessie Huggins, with the Cascadia group, took part in the rescue attempt. She said death came at low tide as they struggled to re-hydrate the whale and keep it cool. Huggins admitted, “There are lots of logistics involved in doing an examination.”

Data shows that the stranding of the humpback whale, scientific name, Megaptera novaeangliae, is not all that uncommon. The National Marine Fisheries Service made the recommendation that the whales received a “threatened” designation; despite the fact that they’re population counts have risen over the years, according to the Seattle Times.

The phenomenon of whales getting stranding is nothing new — in June, a 35-foot female was found dead in Bremerton, and six years ago, a humpback was found dead in West Seattle. Still, scientists have no explanation as to cause.

The sobering news of the humpback death comes on the heels of another story involving the majestic animal. Lately, reports have been cropping up about the species appearing to defend other animals from orca (killer whales) predation, said MNN.

Early on, marine biologists thought humpback whales were unintentionally providing defense from predators by being in the right place and at the right time. However, some evidence suggests the whales, which are thought to be very smart, are purposely intervening against the apex predator.

Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist, has been studying this bizarre behavior nearly a decade. He explained a time when he was observing orca pack hunting a Weddell seal. He noticed that the pod had the animal trapped on a portion of floating ice and were “closing in for the kill.”

All of a sudden, a humpback breached the surface and allowed the frantic seal to seek refuge on its bulky underbelly. The whale even used its flippers to help it aboard. Pitman noted that the behavior appeared to be calculated, as MNN wrote.

“Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this behavior is that it’s not just a few isolated incidents. Humpback whale, rescue teams, have been witnessed foiling killer whale hunts from Antarctica to the North Pacific. It’s as if humpback whales everywhere are saying to killer whales: pick on someone your own size! It seems to be a global effort; an inherent feature of humpback whale behavior.”

“After witnessing one of these events himself back in 2009, Pitman was compelled to investigate further. He began collecting accounts of humpback whales interacting with orcas and found nothing short of 115 documented interactions, reported by 54 different observers between 1951 and 2012. The details of this surprising survey can be found in the journal Marine Mammal Science.”

The benefactors of the rescue efforts have been seals, ocean sunfish, gray whales and California sea lions, to name a few. Pitman believes the behavior is purely altruistic and part of species adaptation. Others say that like the Cape buffalo often does when it turns on a pride of lions, humpback whales are likely exacting revenge.

[Photo by Nick Ut/AP Images File]