A gray whale found dead in Washington state's Puget Sound had been scarfing down shrimp—and also a golf ball, woody debris, algae, pieces of rope and plastic, and some sort of flat spongy material. The garbage was minimal and not the cause of death, which remains under investigation, a NOAA Fisheries spokesman says. But it's common for whales to pick up debris near urban areas because they are filter feeders. "Whatever trash and debris sitting on the sea floor in that sediment is trapped inside the mouth, and it will then swallow," says a NOAA coordinator.
The carcass was spotted Sunday off of Camano Island; the skeleton of the 37-foot sub adult male will be cleaned and sent to the Smithsonian Institution. Even with results of tests for contaminants and diseases, the cause of the whale's death may never be known. "Sometimes we're able to put pieces of the puzzle together and other times those samples don't shed any light on cause of death," says the NOAA coordinator. (Read more whale stories.)