Scientists say Pacifica whale likely struck by a ship


PACIFICA (KRON) – A beached whale that was discovered on Pacifica’s Sharp Park Beach on Monday night possibly died from being struck by a ship, but results of a necropsy were inconclusive, officials with the Marine Mammal Center said today.

The discovery of the carcass marks the second time a whale has washed ashore since April 14th.

The whale has been identified by the Marine Mammal Center as a young female humpback who’s been dead an estimated 4 or 5 days. Scientists conducted a necropsy on the 42-foot adult female humpback this morning. Center officials had initially estimated that the whale was a 32-foot juvenile.

They found four broken vertebrae with surrounding hemorrhaging and a broken rib, indicating the whale suffered some kind of blunt force trauma. However, if the whale had been struck by a ship, the scientists would have expected to see more broken ribs, so the exact cause of death remains unknown, center officials said.

Pockets of warm water in the Pacific ocean have caused unusual migratory journeys for whales, with an influx of whale activity in the Bay area.

Ship strikes are a leading cause of whale deaths caused by humans, along with entanglement with fishing gear, center officials said. Crews on large container ships may be unaware they have struck a whale, so collisions are likely underreported.

“These types of examinations have enabled the scientific community to make recommendations for slower shipping speeds and route changes that ship captains are adhering to voluntarily,” California Academy of Sciences curatorial assistant Sue Pemberton said.SPERM FOUND ON PACIFICA BEACH

A sperm whale washed ashore mid-April not far from the location of Tuesday’s whale.

Biologists were unable to determine the cause of death for the sperm whale found in April, Marine Mammal Center officials said.

The 48-foot male whale was discovered at Mori Point at the south end of Sharp Park State Beach in Pacifica in April, and was already dead by the time biologists from the center and the California Academy of Sciences arrived, Marine Mammal Center spokeswoman Laura Sherr said.

Despite speculation that the animal might have been killed by a ship strike, biologists found no broken bones. There was some hemorrhaging in the muscles, but not enough to clearly indicate blunt force trauma.

Although the whale was emaciated, it had squid beaks in its stomach, which indicates that it had been eating.

Biologists could not determine the whale’s exact age, although it is thought to be an adult.

Researchers collected the teeth and tissue samples for further testing and research. The tissue samples were not fresh enough to determine the cause of death, officials said.

Such findings are fairly rare. Only 17 stranded sperm whales have been found in the 40-year history of the Marine Mammal Center, Sherr said.

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