Scientists confirm gray whale found in SF bay died of severe malnutrition

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The gray whale found dead near Rodeo last week died from severe malnutrition, as confirmed by the Marine Mammal Center. 

On Tuesday, April 2, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted the whale floating a quarter mile offshore near Rodeo by the Carquinez Bridge. They reported it to the Marine Mammal Center who confirmed it was a gray whale. 

Scientists say that being an adult whale, he should have been able to get plenty of food.

In comparison to other cases, they say it’s possible that food shifting could be the cause but it’s more likely to see an infectious disease or toxins.

By investigating deaths like this, we are able to identify and respond to rapidly changing environmental trends that are impacting marine mammal populations. This animal is representative of a growing issue for migrating gray whales who appear unable to sustain themselves due to shifting food source availability.

– Dr. Padraig Duignan, Chief Research Pathologist at The Marine Mammal Center.

The Center said the whale had low blubber and body fat, in addition to no sustenance in the whale’s stomach or intestinal tract.

Upon observation, there were no signs of trauma or diseases.

“We were able to fully get in all the way down to the spinal cord as well as the ribs and everything and all the bones were as they should be,” said Barbie Halaska at the Marine Mammal Center. “Everything looked really good except he was malnourished.”

Halaska says gray whales are benthic feeders, usually eating the small creatures in the sand. The center’s findings prove whales’ feeding source is dwindling. 

Officials say climate change has an effect on water temperature and shifting food sources for marine life.

“Here at the MMC we believe a lot of it has to do with climate change, the water is warming the appropriate food stocks arent available,” Halaska said. 

As gray whales continue their long migration back to Alaska, the Marine Mammal Center has volunteers in the open waters keeping an eye. 

“We’re not sure if we should be concerned yet, but as long as we’re able to respond to each animal, it will give us a better picture of what’s going on in the environment,” she said.

“The death of a third gray whale in San Francisco Bay this year is a cause for serious concern as it speaks to the broader challenges this species continues to face in its ocean home. The findings of these investigations are incredibly valuable as they are shared with policymakers to help find long-term environmental solutions to help prevent these incidents in the future.” 

-Dr. Duignan

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