Necropsy: Ship strike may have caused gray whale's death near San Francisco's Ocean Beach

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A sight at San Francisco's Ocean Beach is drawing people from all over the area.

"I just thought this could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing that I may never get to see again," Samuel Benzoni, a spectator, said.

However, the sight can be pretty disturbing to look at.

RELATED: 9th dead gray whale found in Bay Area this year is cause for 'serious concern,' scientist says

"Yeah, I wasn't expecting such a crazy smell," Ilana Larry, a spectator, said.

On Tuesday, scientists completed the necropsy of the gray whale that washed up on Ocean Beach. Doctors found trauma consistent with a ship strike. The whale beached on its stomach Monday.

"Which is difficult for us, because normally when a whale floats in, it ends up on its back," Dr. Padraig Duignan, the Marine Mammal Center's chief pathologist said. "It gives us easy access to the abdominal cavity."

The Ocean Beach whale is an adult female and the ninth gray whale to wash up in the Bay Area this year. There are usually five to 10 dead gray whales found in an entire calendar year. Scientists found significant trauma and bone fractures to the Ocean Beach mammal.

"Back of the head, back of the thorax, consistent with blunt trauma from something big like a ship," Dr. Diugnan said.

Dr. Duignan told ABC7 News the Marine Mammal Center has seen an increasing number of ship strikes in recent years. He said of the nine dead whales this year, three are confirmed ship strike deaths and another was both malnourished and ship struck.

Before the Ocean Beach whale was roped off, spectators could be seen touching it and, in at least one case, standing on top of the whale.

"It's not good for health reasons, but it's also illegal," Dr. Duignan said. "These species are a protected species, whether they're alive or dead. It's offensive to actually interfere with a carcass."

Kennard Wilson, another spectator, hopes scientists can get to the root of the problem.

"I take my hats off to them," Wilson said. "Get a chance to find out what's really going on out here."

The results of the necropsy will be fed back to a number of different agencies, including the shipping industry.
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