Gray Whales, Dead from Malnutrition and Boat Strikes, Keep Washing Up Near San Francisco

A dead gray whale washed ashore Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica, California, on Tuesday; this the tenth dead whale found on the shores of the Bay Area since March, and scientists are working to determine the cause behind this gruesome trend.

While experts took measurements and examined the most  recent dead whale, the rocky location of the whale’s body made it impossible for a full necropsy.

“The dead whale’s resting place straddles a rocky shoreline in an intertidal area making it unsafe for the Center’s necropsy team to attempt to perform a necropsy,” said Giancarlo Rulli, spokesman for The Marine Mammal Center, in a statement. “The current storms and uncertain tidal conditions this week will play a role on when the expert team can investigate the carcass.”

The ten whales did not have the same cause of death: four died from malnutrition, while another four died after being struck by passing ships. Scientists and experts are still working to determine the cause of death of the remaining two, including the one that washed ashore on Tuesday.

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While the cause of death is clear for eight of the gray whales, these answers don’t explain why the animals are washing ashore en masse on Bay Area beaches.

“This caught our attention and we need to better understand what is going on. The importance of investigating deaths is to figure out what the bigger picture is,” Rulli added.

There are some clues that may explain this disturbing phenomenon.Experts have noticed an increase in gray whale sightings in and around the San Francisco Bay over the past several months.

Gray whales, the most frequently spotted whales in California according to the Marine Mammal Center, migrate north towards Alaska this time of year from their breeding grounds off the Mexican Pacific coast. The Bay Area is right along that trajectory.

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The massive whales, which can grow up to 45-ft. long and weigh as much as 90,000 pounds, have a population of about 26,000 after once being in danger of extinction. Gray whales were removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994.

Experts point to “shifting food sources” caused by “anomalous oceanic conditions” as contributing factors in this recent phenomenon of dead gray whales washing ashore in the Bay Area.

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