Suquamish Tribe takes ownership of gray whale carcass

The Suquamish Tribe has acquired a 30-foot-long dead gray whale that will be used for educational purposes.

“We saw this as a great opportunity for the tribe,” said Rob Purser, Suquamish’s fisheries director. “Historically, tribes would trade parts of the whale with each other, since not all tribes had access to them within their fishing areas. Tribal members would use every part of the animal, including fat for cooking and bones for tools. Today, the younger generation seems attracted to whales, so there is a lot of interest in this mammal.”

Suquamish fisheries staff Ben Purser, Jay Zischke and Ron Harrell prepare the whale for towing from Silverdale.

The whale beached itself on private tidelands on Erlands Point near Silverdale on July 27. The property owner said it was alive when it came shore that morning but died shortly thereafter.  The cause of death is unknown.

Biologists from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Cascadia Research and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gathered samples from the emaciated young male, determining it to be about 3-5 years old. NOAA then asked the tribe if it would be interested in taking possession of the whale and using its skeleton for educational purposes.

Staff from the tribe’s fisheries department wrapped the whale in nets Aug. 3 and slowly towed it from the private beach to a location near the Port Madison Indian Reservation.

The whale was left in the water where it will decompose over the next three to six months with the help of crab and other marine animals; the tribes will then assemble the bones for display.


Fast Facts:
Gray Whales are typically found in Pacific Ocean and migrate between Baja California and Alaska.

The mammals can range from 16 feet to 45 feet in length.

The mammals eat by turning on its side, scooping up mud from the ocean floor and filtering out the sediment, leaving behind small sea animals such as crab and krill.

It is also called a “baleen whale” because of the plates in its upper jaw that are used to filter out the mud when feeding.

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