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May 13, 7:09 PM EDT

Exam: Gray whale found dead in Seattle had air in chest


SEATTLE (AP) -- A juvenile gray whale found dead in Seattle's Elliott Bay over the weekend had air in its chest cavity that likely prevented it from diving for food, according to exam results released Friday.

A necropsy conducted by biologists with the Cascadia Research Collaborative confirmed what scientists observed when they assessed the whale a couple of days before it died. At the time, they suspected the animal was suffering from an infection or a collapsed lung that had filled its chest cavity with air, which would have made the animal too buoyant to dive.

Jessie Huggins, the group's stranding coordinator, said Friday they still don't know what caused all that air to build up in the whale's chest. It could be a previous traumatic injury, disease or both, she said. Tests of tissue samples may provide more information.

The 35-foot female whale, like only a few years old, was first spotted off Kingston in late April. It apparently had trouble diving. Gray whales feed by diving to the sea floor and sifting sediment for food.

"Not being able to dive means not being able to eat food," Huggins said.

Several state and federal agencies and other groups helped track, monitor and assess the whale over several weeks as it was spotted around Puget Sound.

NOAA Fisheries, which coordinated the monitoring, said intervening wasn't a possibility because gray whales weigh up to 40 tons and a distressed whale can be very dangerous. There isn't a way to treat or euthanize large marine mammals swimming in open waters, the agency said.

The whale was found dead Sunday near downtown Seattle and eventually towed to Indian Island, where it was examined.

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