Neighbors had observed the whale over the past two weeks as it feasted on clams and sand shrimp along the shallow waters between Everett and Mukilteo.
On Thursday morning, many of its fans woke up to realize the whale was stuck.
Armed with plastic pails, they raced to its side.
“They are a lot bigger in person,” said Colton Braa, 12, who worked alongside his mother and a dozen others trying to keep the whale's thin, sensitive skin cool and wet.
Biologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle guided the efforts to keep the 40-foot whale alive. They draped it with a wet sheet. The experts could not determine the whale's gender because of how it was positioned in the sand.
“It's in pretty poor shape,” said Brent Norberg, a NOAA marine mammal biologist. “It's likely to restrand someplace else.”
It is rare in Washington to rescue a beached whale, Norberg said. His last rescue was a juvenile killer whale several years ago.
“The prognosis is never very good for a whale that strands,” said Brian Gorman, a NOAA spokesman. “There is a reason it is stranded in the first place.”
How and why the whale was beached Thursday has not been determined.
Gray whales typically migrate between Alaska and Baja, Calif. Biologists estimate there are about 20,000 off the Pacific Coast.
Rescuers are hoping for the best.
The gray whale, which was covered with large patches of sea lice and barnacles, made noises “like big sighs of relief” when neighbors began splashing it with buckets of water, said Kim Crosby, who lives nearby.
Her husband, Chuck Crosby, said he noticed the beached whale a little after 7 a.m. from his home overlooking the water.
“When we first got there, he looked like he was dead,” Crosby said. “It seemed like he was crying a little bit.”
The whale was on its side with its head facing the beach. It reacted well when water was poured on its exposed body, making sounds that Kim Crosby and her son, Sam, said sounded like sighs.
“He was really hot,” Kim Crosby said. “He would look at us and blow out his hole.”
The whale was beached just west of Harborview Park.
Anne Hagel lives near the beach and was keeping close tabs on the morning's events.
“We've seen this whale for a couple of weeks now,” she said. “We heard the blowholes all the time. It has been amazing.”
Everett High School students Bradi Carpenter and Hanna Vanucie, both 17, were given gloves to protect themselves from parasites as they poured water over the whale's side.
They were struck by the softness of its skin and its reeking breath.
As the hours ticked by, they celebrated the movement of a fin and its tail — each sign that the whale may free itself.
By late morning as the water rose, the rescuers were told to head to shore. Experts wanted them to be far away from the whale if it began to thrash.
It writhed now and then and moaned, as it struggled to gain mobility.
By 1:30 p.m., it lifted itself from its sandy bed and swam off.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, email@example.com.
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