Whale's death remains a mystery days after washing up in San Francisco

Experts are still unable to determine what caused the death of the gray whale, which was 45 feet long and washed up on Sunday at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach.

The Marine Mammal Center and the California Academy of Sciences took samples from the carcass of the animal on Monday to test for clues into its death.

Experts identified the whale at 45 feet as an adult female and said that her body was in an average condition. Although they found several fractured spinal vertebrae, experts concluded that the animal had been hit by a ship. However, there was no evidence of bleeding to the nearby tissues or bruising.

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Padraig Duignan is the Center’s director of pathology. He stated in a press release that Gray whales are “sentinels for ocean health” and that these investigations are essential to understand how humans are affecting this species.

Experts from the Center, the world’s largest marine mammal clinic, have responded to this dead whale in San Francisco Bay Area. There were 14 gray whales among the dead, all of which were discovered in April. Also included was one pygmy Sperm whale and two fin whales.

Officials from the Center stated that many of these whales died in vessel strikes. However, the cause of death of several others is still unknown.

Whale's death remains a mystery days after washing up in San Francisco

According to the Center, the 14 gray whales that died in April were the most recent deaths recorded in the Bay Area since early 2019, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an unusual mortality event (UME) for the species.

The UME was declared by the NOAA, which is ongoing due to elevated gray whale strandings on the west coast of North America, from Mexico through Alaska, since January 2019.

According to NOAA, there were 465 gray whale deaths in the United States, Canada, and Mexico between January 1, 2019, and June 4, 2021. These figures are higher than the average 18-year whale standings for 2001-2018.

While researchers are still trying to determine the cause of the UMEs, investigations into the carcasses of whales have provided some clues. Experts believe that several of the dead whales were emaciated.

Kathi George, director of field operations at the Center, stated previously to Daily Reuters that this suggests possible ecosystem changes that could be impacting their habitats and food availability. Climate change can affect water temperatures and prey availability. This could lead to shifts in food sources for marine mammal species and populations.

Not all dead whales were found to be emaciated. While some deaths may have been caused by ship strikes or entanglement with fishing gear, others are still unsolved.