Dead whale washes up on Pacifica beach

A dead gray whale has washed up on a popular Pacifica State Beach, the 12th whale casualty in the Bay Area reported this year.

The putrid carcass, about 20 to 25 feet in length, is awaiting an effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and local authorities to tow it away.

The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito responded to a 3 p.m. Friday report of a dead whale rolling in the surf at the picturesque crescent-shaped beach, also called Linda Mar Beach.

Because of the whale’s advanced state of decomposition, a necropsy is not planned to investigate the cause of death, according to the center’s Giancarlo Rulli. It is not possible to identify its age or gender.

It is the latest in a series of gray whale deaths — called an Unusual Mortality Event — that have been reported during the past three years along the western coast of North America from Mexico to Alaska. An Unusual Mortality Event is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as a phenomenon that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population and demands immediate response.

NOAA is investigating this trend with an independent team of scientists who are reviewing data and sampling dead whales to determine whether human, environmental or disease-related causes are to blame.

But gray whale populations are resilient, recovering from endangered status in 1994 and rebounding after a previous Unusual Mortality Event from 1999 to 2000.

Curious surfers inspect a beached whale Saturday at Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Gray whales are migrating through the San Francisco Bay Area this spring as they journey north from Baja California to cool, food-rich Arctic waters.

When mature, gray whales can measure nearly 40 feet in length and weigh 60,000 pounds.

This is the fifth gray whale death reported this month in the Bay Area region. Previous whales washed up in Oakland, Angel Island State Park, Half Moon Bay and Bolinas.

Malnutrition, entanglement and trauma from ship strikes have been the most common causes of death in whales studied by the center’s research team in recent years.

Previous whale deaths at Bay Area beaches in 2021 include:

• Feb. 20: adult female pygmy sperm whale; North Salmon Creek Beach (Point Reyes National Seashore); cause of death: undetermined

• April 1: adult female gray whale; Crissy Field, San Francisco; cause of death: undetermined

• April 3: adult female gray whale; Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, San Mateo County; cause of death: suspected ship strike

• April 8: subadult male gray whale; Angel Island State Park via San Francisco Bay (Berkeley Marina); cause of death: undetermined

• April 8: adult female gray whale; Muir Beach; cause of death: ship strike

• April 24: juvenile male fin whale; Fort Funston, San Francisco, now at Thornton Beach in Daly City; cause of death: suspected ship strike

• April 27: gray whale; Keil Cove, Tiburon now currently at Kirby Cove/Lime Point in Sausalito; cause of death: undetermined

• May 3: gray whale; Port of Oakland; cause of death: undetermined

• May 4: gray whale; Angel Island State Park; cause of death: undetermined

• May 11: gray whale; Half Moon Bay; cause of death: undetermined

• May 14: subadult male gray whale; Bolinas; cause of death: ship strike

To report a dead whale or whale in distress, call the Center’s rescue hotline at 415-289-SEAL (7325).


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