EVERETT — It seemed inevitable.
Scientists were certain a gray whale that beached itself three times last summer off the shores of Everett and Tulalip would die.
It didn’t make sense to put a transmitter on a creature that seemed so weak.
Plans were being made for a necropsy.
A whale expert from the East Coast was on standby to fly across the country to study the whale after its death.
He never got the chance.
That’s because the 40-ton creature simply disappeared.
Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, on Friday said whales seldom survive a beaching. The fact that the Everett gray whale survived three beachings is extremely unusual, he said.
“The assumption always was it was going to die,” he said. “Typically what happens is they strand, and that is the end of it. It was not anticipated it would even get out to open water.”
Without a transmitter, scientists have no way of knowing where the whale is or even if it is alive, he said.
They just know its body didn’t wash up on a Puget Sound beach, as almost certainly would have been the case if it had died last summer.
Gray whales typically migrate between Alaska and Baja, Calif., dipping into Puget Sound to feed. Biologists estimate there are about 20,000 off the Pacific Coast.
Several neighbors said they had noticed the stranded whale feeding on sand shrimp along the Everett shoreline for a few weeks in June and July.
Gray whales are baleen whales, collecting shrimp or krill in comblike plates in their mouths.
The whale that created all the commotion last summer stranded twice off the shores of Everett and once off Tulalip.
Biologists and neighbors worked side by side to give it comfort while the tide was out.
They draped a long white sheet over its enormous flank to protect its sensitive skin from the beating sun. They splashed it with buckets of water.
Biologists also applied a petroleum jelly with zinc oxide around its eyes and blow hole to protect the delicate tissue from sunburn.
When it stranded off Tulalip, tribal members came up close in a canoe, drumming, singing and praying for the whale to get well and find its way to deeper water.
When the tide came up, the whale swam away.
The experts never were able to determine the whale’s gender because of how it was positioned in the sand, Gorman said.
Chances are no one will ever know for sure what happened to the whale.
In open water, many whales simply sink to the bottom when they die, he said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; email@example.com.