Blue whale washes up on Point Reyes, among many in Bay Area killed by ship

06/21/2018

This spring, whale bodies washed up on beaches have become no more shocking than the deer carcass pushed to the side of the road. Last weekend, a blue whale, a 62-foot juvenile female, appeared a few miles south of Limantour Beach. The Marine Mammal Center, which has responded to eight whales so far in 2018, first received public reports of a dead body floating two miles east of the Farallon Islands on Saturday evening. Scientists from the center, the California Academy of Sciences, the Point Reyes National Seashore and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration performed a necropsy and discovered multiple broken vertebrae and severe tissue hemorrhaging along the whale’s back. The cause of death? Struck by a ship. “This is only the tenth blue whale carcass that our team has responded to in our 43-year history, so this necropsy is a rare chance to learn more about the overall health and life history of this species,” Barbie Halaska, a researcher at the Marine Mammal Center, said in a press release. Blue whales, the largest animals on earth, have been listed as endangered since 1970. Their largest population worldwide, numbering around 2,800, lives off the California coast and can be seen during the summer and fall migrations. There are between 8,000 and 9,000 across the planet. Ship strikes are now one of the leading causes of death for blues and many other large whales. Beyond voluntary shipping lane slow-downs in and out of the San Francisco Bay, Point Blue, a conservation nonprofit, is pursuing other steps to protect large marine mammals—such as changes in traffic patterns to move vessels away from feeding hot spots and new technology to reduce entanglement in fishing gear, another leading cause of death.