A blue whale that washed ashore in northern California was struck by a ship, experts believe.
The female whale, 79 feet long, washed ashore Friday at Agate Beach in Bolilnas, about 13 miles north of San Francisco. Scientists from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences conducted a necropsy on site Saturday and took blood and tissue samples.
The carcass had major blunt-force trauma along its left side.
Scores of people were traveling to the beach to see the whale, but the smell of the decaying carcass was becoming overpowering, witnesses told ABC-7 TV. Several people were emotional about the dead beast. But scientists were eager to learn what they could from the body.
“We rarely have the opportunity to examine blue whales due to their endangered status,” Barbie Halaska, a research assistant at the Marine Mammal Center, said in a statement. “The opportunity to perform a necropsy on a carcass in this good of condition will help contribute to our baseline data on the species.”
The entire left side of the whale was damaged from a boat strike, and the whale had 10 broken ribs and 10 fractured vertebrae from close to its tail to mid-body, according to Halaska.
The whale was identified through photographs of its tail in a database of the Cascadia Research Collective. It was spotted 11 different years beginning in 1999, most often off Santa Barbara.
The carcass will be left on the beach to decompose and be eaten by birds. A reef along Agate Beach would make towing the carcass back out to sea difficult.
Blue whales are the largest creatures on Earth. There are as many as 9,000 of them around the globe, and an estimated 2,800 off the California Coast.
Ships are a major threat to whales, especially during migration season. Early this month the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries asked large ships to voluntarily cut their speeds in half to about 11 mph in shipping lanes heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge, according to the Monterey Herald. While whale strikes will continue to occur, officials hope the animals will be more likely to survive a collision at lower speeds.