Porpoise deaths raise alarms about health of Puget Sound

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. - Three dead porpoises have washed ashore on Whidbey Island in a matter of days, and now some experts are wondering if the animals were ill - or the cause of their deaths is something worse.

One of the porpoises was found a few yards away from the iconic Admiralty Lighthouse on Whidbey Island, and Susan Berta is hoping to find answers that will shed light on the mystery.

"What we find in our marine mammals tells us about the health of the ocean," says Berta, who is with the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

The dead harbor porpoise found near the lighthouse is the third one she has investigated this week.

Just as concerning is what happened north of here, along the San Juan Islands. In early May, over a seven-day stretch, eight porpoises were found dead along the shoreline.

Berta says it's too late to perform a necropsy that could possibly reveal what happened.

"Unfortunately, when they're this far gone, the organs aren't any good," she explains.

But she does get some useful information.

"This one is an adult. It's pretty much full-size," she says.

And with a blubber sample, she might be able to find out if there was something in the water that made it sick.

Still - many questions are still unanswered.

"And not only does it tell us about the health of our ocean, but also about our own health," says Berta. "These are marine mammals that eat a lot of the same seafoods that we eat."

And until she knows more, she'll keep searching for clues.

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