There are just an estimated 3,200 fin whales in the waters off of California, Oregon, and Washington. Friday, one of them was found lifeless along the beach at Fort Funston — having likely died from a boat strike.
Between a "Super Cyclone" (that was hinted as the Bay Area's best chance to get out of drought conditions) and an increasing number of dead whales washing ashore around San Francisco, it's a worrying sign of the hellacious times we’re in. The past 26 days have seen the corpses of at least four gray whales appear along Bay Area beaches in an almost unheard-of frequency.
A dead whale just washed onto the beach at Fort Funston in San Francisco pic.twitter.com/imb7czp8EF— ⚡️ Andrew So⚡️ (@AndrewDixonSo) April 24, 2021
It was initially unclear what species of whale had exactly found itself on the beach at Fort Funston. The animal, however, was later described as a rare fin whale. (Though sharing some physical attributes with both gray and blue whales — close evolutionary kin to many whale species — fin whales possess a white belly that bleeds onto their sides, while also having an unmistakable, albeit small dorsal fin that differentiates them from other whales.)
What do you get when you cross the two largest animals on the planet? Meet FLUE, the best known hybrid between a blue whale and fin whale! pic.twitter.com/C0XdE7kgHA— Dr. Daniel Palacios (@danielequs) April 24, 2021
The first of four deceased whales — an adult 41-foot adult female gray whale at Crissy Field — was recorded this month on March 31; that animal was swiftly towed to Angel Island where a team of researchers descended to perform a necropsy, which came back with inconclusive results as to how the gray whale perished. The second whale, another adult female, was located at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Moss Beach on April 3, but that animal was believed to have died from a boat strike.
Then within the span of two days, between April 7 and April 8, two more deceased gray whales washed ashore — the first of the two found at the Berkeley Marin, while the other appeared the next morning at Muir Beach. The deaths of these gray whales, unlike the former two, are still under investigation.
And now, here are: writing about yet another cetacean death, this time about an incredibly endangered whale species.
The most logical cause for whale deaths? Ongoing cases of malnutrition, fishing equipment entanglements, and blows dealt to the animals by passing ships can be attributed to most modern whale deaths — all of which are direct results of human activity and the climate crisis.
“Our team hasn’t responded to this number of dead gray whales in such a short span since 2019 when we performed a startling 13 necropsies in the San Francisco Bay Area,” said Dr. Pádraig Duignan, Director of Pathology at The Marine Mammal Center, to KRON4.
Warming oceans have caused schools of plankton — the main food source of both gray and fin whales — to move down and toward the poles, forcing the whales that feast on them to travel further (at times dangerously close to human activity) in order to survive. Over the past few decades as well, whales consuming single-use plastic products has resulted in hundreds of recorded deaths; this is particularly true of sperm whales, which often mistake large floating trash bags for squid.
Center experts and partners @calacademy performed a necropsy this afternoon on a juvenile male fin whale at Ft. Funston. The team suspects the 46-foot whale— The Marine Mammal Center (@TMMC) April 25, 2021
died from blunt force trauma due to ship strike based on analysis. pic.twitter.com/QTDEpkka9E
Experts at the Marine Mammal Center and Cal Academy said later Saturday that they speculate the death of this 46-foot male fin whale was from a boat strike, noting the mammal had significant bruising and hemorrhaging to the muscles around its neck vertebrae.
To report a dead whale or whale in distress, call the Marine Mammal Center’s rescue hotline at 415-289-SEAL (7325).
Those who wish to give a tax-deductible contribution toward further research into our Bay Area whales, as well as buoy ongoing conservation efforts, donate to the American Cetacean Society's San Francisco Chapter at acs-sfbay.org/donate.
Image: Getty Images/JG1153