Dead whale removed from beach

April 3, 2009 1:09:14 PM PDT
Santa Cruz city officials are taking the remains of a baby gray whale to its final resting place. The whale washed up on a beach Thursday, causing a smelly problem just days before spring break. Quite a crowd gathered as crews figured out how to remove it Friday morning.

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Even the early morning high tide did not budge the two-ton dead whale from its resting place on a small Santa Cruz beach a quarter mile from Lighthouse Point. Ever since city crews discovered it Wednesday floating just south of the wharf, it has been the talk of the town.

Efforts to tow the female yearling out to sea and let it float away did not work when a strong shift in the wind pushed it back to shore. Before even seeing it, locals knew the carcass had returned.

"I couldn't smell it from my house, but yeah, sure got a good whiff when I got up here though," said David Warner, an onlooker.

For two hours, onlookers got the best seat in the house on West Cliff Drive as city crews orchestrated a removal plan.

"We had a choice to go by land or sea. The land route is a better way," said Dan Buecher, wharf supervisor.

Crews from the Santa Cruz wharf first strapped the 25-foot carcass and then slowly, but surely, hoisted it up the cliff with a big rig tow truck. It was a methodical process to ensure the decomposing whale did not split apart.

"Yeah, it's never a good time for 5,000 pounds of dead whale to land in your yard," said Sean Van Sommeran with the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation.

Marine mammal experts still don't know why this California gray whale died.

"They die of natural cause anyway, it's tough, especially for the first few years as a yearling," said Van Sommeran.

"Maybe it got hit by a boat," said Nate Babcock, an onlooker.

But the baby whale has no obvious signs of trauma. Research scientists still plan to examine it from a dry location now. Its final resting place will be up in a bluff by the sea.

An enforcement agent from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was on-hand to make sure the whale was handled properly, since it is a federally protected mammal. Scientists took tissue samples on Thursday, but no necropsy since it's on a public beach and would have required a massive clean-up. Further research will happen from the landfill.

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