What is WHALES and Why it Matters


Official Washington State Certificates

The Department of Health issues certified copies of vital records (“certificates”) for births, deaths, stillbirths, fetal deaths, marriages, and divorces that took place in the state of Washington.  The information required for the certificates requires input from many entities and the Department of Health diligently works to ensure accuracy of the information. It is a massive effort made possible by software and Internet technology in a state with a rapidly growing population.

Death Certificates

There was a time not too long ago when a Funeral Director met with the family of a deceased person and gathered the statistical information required to file a death certificate. The information was typed (remember typewriters?) on a form, which was physically delivered to the doctor who usually signed it on the spot. The funeral home courier then delivered it to the County vital statistics office where it was quickly filed and certified copies made.

Then came the Internet and rapid population growth.


The State implemented an online program called the Washington State Electronic Death Reporting System (EDRS) that became mandatory on January 1, 2018. It required all deaths in Washington, excluding fetal deaths, to be reported electronically. Funeral directors and deputy registrars easily completed their portions of the death report through a web application. It took a bit longer for the far larger number of doctors to get up to speed on the EDRS system. New doctors often struggled with it.

EDRS came to an end on February 7, 2024. It’s functions merged into the system that keeps tracks of births, marriages, etc. That system, called WHALES (Washington Health and Life Event System), started being developed in October 2012.  It was built on open source software often used by state and military entities. Despite years of history, search engines like Bing and Google still return massively more information on real live whales than on the Washington Health and Life Event System, which took over from legacy systems in 2016.


Because the death reporting requirement is now being input through a new interface, the Department of Health rushed to train all stakeholders for a smooth transition. Funeral Establishments are well founded in it now but our experience as a funeral provider is that doctors are struggling to catch up. Until certifying physicians become fully enrolled and integrated, you may personally experience delays in completing funeral arrangements.

WHALES is a lot more than simply a recording system that issues death certificates. It publishes data to help government as well as business to understand trends and plan health promotion strategies.

Burial Transit Permit


Here’s the law:

(3) A person may not provide for final disposition of human remains until the following have occurred:

(a) The report of death has been registered in accordance with RCW 70.58A.200; and
(b) The funeral director, funeral establishment, or person having the right to control the disposition of the human remains under RCW 68.50.160 has obtained a burial-transit permit authorizing final disposition.

The bottom line is this. We may have to wait for a doctor who is not yet enrolled in the system to certify the death resulting in a delay in our obtaining a burial transit permit, further causing potential scheduling delays.