San Francisco is a city with some of the most scenic vistas in America. Whale watching is a major tourist activity, and gray whales are some of the most majestic creatures to see in the wild.
However, a dead gray whale on a San Francisco beach has been anything but a site to behold.
According to KSBW Action News, the massive 45-foot whale washed ashore dead in the middle of the night this past Sunday. It’s been decaying on the beach ever since, with the stench filling the air in area frequented by walkers, joggers, and surfers.
Gray whales reportedly reach sizes of 40-50 feet long and can weigh as much 20 to 40 tons. That makes them slightly larger than a school bus. The gray whale is one of the animal kingdom’s great migrators.
San Francisco City officials are asking beachgoers to keep their distance and to only observe the rotting whale from a far.
Gray whales typically cruise through the Pacific coast off of northern California California during their northbound migration to Arctic waters, which generally takes place from late March through April. During this journey, its not unheard of for whales to expire and was ashore. The whales migrate in groups called pods. Some pods will migrate more than 12,000 miles round-trip from their summer home in Alaskan waters to the warmer waters off the Mexican coast each year.
Despite an alarmingly increasing number of dead gray whale reports, the species is considered to be doing well after being removed from the endangered species list in 1994.
This most recent whale carcass washed ashore in the region months later than usual, and it’s another puzzling piece of a puzzle that includes an astonishing number of dead gray whales reported dead in less than three months.
The frequency of dead gray whales washing ashore on beaches has been increasing since 2019. Since April 2021, there have no been 14 reported gray whale carcasses found on beaches explained Giancarlo Rulli, a spokesperson for the Marine Mammal Center.
“In 2019, when this unusual mortality event began, we had 13 dead gray whales .
Last year we had five. In an average year, we and our partners at the California Academy of Sciences respond to about five to 10 dead whales of all species in a given year.”
The most common causes for death in the whales in recent years have reportedly been malnutrition or entanglement and trauma from port ropes and lines attached to industrial ships or commercial fishing operations.
The California Academy of Sciences performed a necropsy on most recent whale to wash ashore. Reports indicate the specimen was a female with average fat stores and body conditions. Researchers were unable to determine a definitive cause of death.
The whale did have fractured vertebrae. but the lack of bruising and hemorrhaging surrounding the spine indicates the animal was most likely hit by a ship after it had already died of another cause and floated to the surface.
The research team did, however, discover that the whale pretty much an empty stomach, which raises questions about why this adult female was migrating northbound this late in the season.
“We are hopeful that samples taken during the necropsy will shed some light on the reasons behind her late journey north and any potential ailments that may be affecting the gray whale population.”
Just a few months ago, 3 dead whales washed ashore in the same area in just a one week span.