Researchers uncovered evidence of blunt force trauma to the head while examining Hawkeye, the dead humpback whale found floating in the Juan de Fuca Strait last week.
The examination was led by Cascadia Research Collective, a non-profit based out of Washington State, along with a number of organizations and veterinarians including the Marine Mammal Laboratory, Oregon State University, SR3 and the Fiero Marine Life Centre.
While the cause of Hawkeye’s death could not be determined due to the whale’s advanced state of decomposition and “logistical constraints,” researchers believe the whale was in reasonable health prior to its death and found evidence of pre-mortem blunt force trauma.
The 35-foot whale had been documented alive off Otter Point west of Sooke, only five days prior to being found dead, floating in the Juan de Fuca Strait on Sept. 27. In the following days, he was towed to a site near Sekiu, Washington and examined.
Hawkeye was known to several research groups, having been first identified in 2016 and spotted repeatedly feeding in the area where he died.
According to the Cascadia Research Collective, the return of humpback whales to the Salish Sea, along with their increased use of the Juan de Fuca Strait – an area of high and increasing vessel traffic – has made ship strikes of whales a growing concern on both sides of the border.
The death of Hawkeye brings the total of humpback whales lost in the past year to four. A Washington State Ferry struck and presumably killed a humpback whale while leaving Elliott Bay in Seattle in 2019, and a second humpback was killed by a Washington State Ferry vessel on July 6 of this year. Two more dead humpbacks were also found this summer.