Earlier today, a team of 14 scientists from The Marine Mammal Center and California Academy of Sciences arrived at Angel Island State Park to perform a necropsy on the whale carcass found in Alameda, CA. The whale was an immature male fin whale, measured at a length of 15.9 meters, or about 52 feet.
Earlier in the week the Center received reports of a whale carcass that fell off the bow of a large container ship in the San Francisco Bay.Based on evidence gathered during this necropsy, scientists determined the whale was killed by blunt force trauma via a ship, making the official cause of death “vessel collision.”
During the necropsy, scientists discovered fractured and dislocated vertebrae, fractured and dislocated ribs, and hemorrhaging that indicate the whale was struck while still alive. Scientists were also able to remove the whale’s earplug, which will help determine the exact age of the animal. Additional samples and data were collected for future study.
“Every whale stranding is an important opportunity to learn more about these creatures, and how we can prevent future deaths,” says Dr. Frances Gulland, Senior Scientist at The Marine Mammal Center. “With an increase in worldwide shipping, deaths from ship strikes will become more and more of a problem. Locally we must identify a solution that both works for shipping companies and keeps whales safe.”
The carcass was towed to Angel Island State Park on August 27th through collaboration between NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps.
“This collaboration is another great example of how the California stranding network works closely with multiple agencies, including the State Parks, US Coast Guard, and US Army Corps, to respond to community needs, such as carcass removal,” says Justin Viezbicke, California Stranding Network Coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “The quick coordination of so many partners allowed the biologists to gather critical data from the carcass, which helps direct bigger picture management and conservation.”
The Center has responded to 4 fin whales during its history. The most recent was a juvenile 42-foot fin whale that stranded at Stinson Beach in Marin County, CA, in August of 2013. After performing a necropsy, scientists determined that the whale suffered from blunt trauma, which either caused or likely contributed to its death. The cause of that trauma is unknown.
In 2012 a juvenile fin whale washed ashore at Point Reyes National Seashore. That animal’s necropsy revealed external wounds, as well as trauma resulting in fractured ribs and vertebra. The cause of death was determined as the result of a ship strike.
In September of 2010 a fin whale carcass was discovered on the bow of a ship docked at the Port of Oakland. Skin samples were taken, and the carcass was towed out of the bay. The cause of death was determined as boat strike by National Marine Fisheries Service. A few days later another fin whale carcass washed up on Ocean Beach, and skin samples were again taken. Unfortunately the carcass was too decomposed to do a full necropsy or determine if it was the same animal found earlier in the month.