Dead whale washes up on SF's Ocean Beach

September 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
There is a mystery for marine biologists out on San Francisco's Ocean Beach. On Monday morning, a badly decomposed whale washed ashore, but it's probably not a species we are used to hearing about in these waters.

A 50-foot long, badly decomposed whale washed-up on the beach between the base of Lawton and Kirkham streets.

Marine Mammal Center veterinarian Vanessa Fravel says it's hard to say what species it is because it's no longer intact.

"The important thing to us is getting a length, some pictures to identify what kind of whale it is, and we also collected skin samples to get DNA information to help link with populations out in the wild," says Fravel.

Fravel says she can't tell how it died, but that whales are coming closer to shore now because that's where the food is.

"It's hard to say whether it was a predator or a boat or what, we can't really tell, but there is a certain amount of die off that happens out there and I think we're just seeing more of it because they're closer into shore eating the abundance of food close by," says Fravel.

Just last week a dead whale was dragged into the Port of Oakland on the bow of a container ship. A private company towed that whale back out to sea.

In 2007, a humpback cow and calf were freed after being trapped in the Sacramento delta. They had injuries from being hit by a ship.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher Jan Roletto was on her way to Half Moon Bay when she heard reports of the Ocean Beach whale and made a detour to take a look.

"We've ruled out humpback whale, gray whale, blue whale, so around here that means something pretty rare, something endangered, either a fin whale or a Sei whale," says Roletto.

Along with the scientists, the carcass drew a steady stream of the curious public.

"It's really something, you know. It's kind of mesmerizing and sad," says San Francisco resident Jennifer Lynch.

The park service will bury the whale at the beach on Tuesday. They can't do it overnight because there's not enough money for the overtime and even if there was, it is in the protected snowy plover habitat which may not be disturbed at night.

Heavy equipment will have to be brought in to do the digging. It will be buried close to the Great Highway, so the tide will not uncover it anytime soon.

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