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Originally published April 19, 2010 at 9:26 PM | Page modified April 20, 2010 at 9:29 AM

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Garbage found in stomach of dead whale on West Seattle beach

A gray whale that died after stranding on a West Seattle beach had a large amount of trash in its stomach, ranging from a pair of sweatpants to a golf ball, said biologists who examined the animal.

OLYMPIA — A gray whale that died after stranding on a West Seattle beach had a large amount of trash in its stomach, ranging from a pair of sweatpants to a golf ball, said biologists who examined the animal.

Scientists with the Cascadia Research Collective said the examination did not immediately determine why the 37-foot near-adult male died, but it was found to be in better nutritional condition than other gray whales that died recently. Starvation was not considered a major contributor to its death.

In a news release, the research organization said the animal found Thursday had more than 50 gallons of material in its stomach. Most was algae, typical of the bottom-feeding whales, but "a surprising amount of human debris" also was found.

Besides the pants and golf ball, the trash included more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, plastic pieces and duct tape.

The debris made up only 1 percent to 2 percent of the stomach contents and there was no clear indication it caused the whale's death. But Cascadia said the junk showed the whale had tried to feed in industrial waters.

Gray whales feed by sucking in sediment in shallow waters and filtering out small organisms that live there.

Cascadia said the whale had cuts on the head, possibly from a boat propeller, but they did not appear fresh or deep enough to have contributed to its death. A large number of samples were taken and will be analyzed, but results will not be known for weeks or months, the organization said.

So far this year, five gray whales have died in Washington waters, four of them in Puget Sound in the past two weeks. That number is far below the 50 that died in Washington waters in 1999 and 2000, The Olympian newspaper reported.

Three of the four whales to die in April appeared emaciated and all apparently were stragglers from the nearly 20,000 gray whales that typically migrate each spring from breeding grounds in Mexico to feeding grounds in Alaska. Whales that didn't get enough to eat in Alaska last year may now be running low on reserves, researchers said.

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