Lifestyle & Human Interest

Endangered Fin Whale Washes Up on Shore, Likely Killed by Blunt Force Trauma Due to Ship Traffic


On Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted a whale carcass in the water a few miles from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

The whale washed ashore Friday night at Fort Funston, and on Saturday a necropsy was performed by The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, that suggested — based on bruising and hemorrhaging around the neck vertebrae — that the whale died from being hit by a ship.

The creature was identified as a fin whale, which is an endangered species and the second-largest species of whale. It was a 46-foot-long young male in average condition and had a stomach full of food (krill) at the time of its death.

“By investigating deaths like this, we can learn more about how human activity and changing environmental trends are impacting large whales,” Barbie Halaska, the Necropsy Manager for The Marine Mammal Center, said, according to KPIX-TV.

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“Ship strikes are the biggest threat fin whales face, so this investigation helps us understand the challenges these animals face and inform decision-makers so we can safely share the ocean with marine wildlife.”

In its nearly 50-year history, the center has investigated six fin whale deaths and determined that five were due to ship strikes.

This particular specimen is the fifth whale to be found dead in or near the area in the past month. The others were gray whales, and the majority of them were determined to have died after being hit by ships.

The Bay is a very busy area, especially as the pandemic has impacted the traffic even more, and The Marine Mammal Center says that a shift in the currents has driven the whales’ food source close to the shoreline in the bay, leading to an uptick in whale-ship collisions.

“During the necropsy at Muir Beach, scientists discovered significant bruising and hemorrhaging to muscle around the whale’s jaw and neck vertebrae consistent with blunt force trauma due to ship strike,” the center said of the fourth whale found, according to KRON-TV.

“The team identified the gray whale as a 41-foot adult female that was minimally decomposed based on the quality of the internal organs. Experts also noted the whale was in good body condition based on the blubber layer and internal fat levels.”

The number of whales found dead in the recent past is unusual, and there are movements in place to both further examine why there are so many whales coming into the area and find ways to minimize whale-ship collisions.

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“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,” Dr. Pádraig Duignan with The Marine Mammal Center said.

According to KION-TV, of the five dead whales discovered, three appear to have been hit by ships, the outlet reported.

The Monterey Marine Sanctuary has also requested that ships waiting to enter the bay wait farther out to avoid hitting the whales.

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