A young humpback whale that was found dead in the Strait of Juan de Fuca last week was in good health but appears to have been struck in the head before it died, a necropsy has revealed.
The dead animal, which has been identified as a male known as Hawkeye or MMX0094, was first spotted on Sept. 27, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association.
A boat with Victoria's Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours came across the dead whale again on Sept. 30 and found the carcass lying belly up, giving the team a chance to look at the underside of its tail, which has unique markings used by scientists to distinguish individual humpbacks.
"It was a very sad sight to see," tour company naturalist Val Shore said in a news release.
"We circled slowly around the whale to get photos from all angles, looking for signs of injury or entanglement. We couldn't see anything obvious."
The whale had last been spotted alive on Sept. 22, when it appeared to be healthy, the news release says.
The carcass was towed to shore near Seiku, Wash., on Saturday and examined by a team of veterinarians.
According to the non-profit Cascadia Research Collective, because the whale was so decomposed it was not possible to determine an exact cause of death.
"However, it was determined that the whale had been in reasonable health prior to death and showed evidence of pre-mortem blunt force trauma to the head," the research group said in a post online.
"The return of humpback whales to the Salish Sea and their increased use of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, an area of high and increasing vessel traffic coming and going from ports in Puget Sound and southern British Columbia, has made ship strikes of whales a growing concern on both sides of the border."
Two humpbacks have been struck and killed by Washington state ferries in the last two years, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association.