Dead whale washes on Pacifica beach

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

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

The Sausalito Marine Mammal Center responded to a 3 p.m. report on Friday of a dead whale rolling in the waves on the scenic crescent-shaped beach, also known as Linda Mar Beach.

Due to the whale’s advanced state of decomposition, an autopsy is not scheduled to investigate the cause of death, according to the center’s Giancarlo Rulli. It is not possible to identify his age or sex.

It is the latest in a series of gray whale deaths – called an unusual mortality event – that have been reported over the past three years along the west coast of North America, from Mexico to the Alaska. An unusual mortality event is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as an unexpected occurrence, which results in significant mortality of any marine mammal population and requires an immediate response.

NOAA is studying this trend with an independent team of scientists who are reviewing the 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 their endangered status in 1994 and rebounding from a previous unusual mortality event from 1999 to 2000.

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

Gray whales migrate to the San Francisco Bay Area this spring as they head north from Baja California to cool, food-rich arctic waters.

When fully grown, gray whales can be almost 40 feet long and weigh 60,000 pounds.

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

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

Previous whale deaths on Bay Area beaches in 2021 include:

• February 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 collision with a ship

• 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: collision with a ship

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

• 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: collision with a ship

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

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