A gray whale that generated the concern of onlookers on shore successfully made its way Wednesday out of the shallow waters of Burley Lagoon, near Purdy, Pierce County.

Although a whale expert says the animal was probably never trapped in the lagoon, as some observers feared, the juvenile whale, perhaps about 25 feet long, does appear to be emaciated and may be injured.

John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research said it’s not unusual to see gray whales in Puget Sound and off Whidbey Island in the spring and summer, but seldom would they make it to Burley Lagoon — west of Highway 16 north of Gig Harbor — one of the farthest reaches of Puget Sound waters.

Calambokidis said the whale would probably have to swim about 200 miles to get back to the open ocean but would not have to go nearly that far to get back to typical gray-whale feeding territory.

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The whale appears to be about a year old, appears thinner than normal and has a large patch of whale lice, which could have formed on the site of an injury, he said.

Although the whales make an impressive sight when they come close to shore, Calambokidis said it’s not unusual for them to work shallow waters in search of food.

He said there are about 20,000 gray whales in the northeastern Pacific, and the great majority head to Alaskan waters in the summer, but several hundred spend the summer in the Pacific Northwest, including areas around Puget Sound.

Calambokidis said if the whale were definitely trapped in a shallow area that could be cut off at low tide, actions might be considered, such as approaching it with boats to guide it to deeper waters. “But trying to capture it or do something traumatic would probably put it at greater risk,” he said.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com