Hundreds flock to Half Moon Bay to see dead whale

SAN MATEO COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- A young humpback whale that washed up at Half Moon Bay is attracting a lot of attention. Humpbacks migrate along the California coast, but this small whale didn't make it. They're fascinating animals and a lot of people have been out to take a look.

It has created quite the spectacle and quite the traffic jam. Hundreds of people came out to look at the dead whale. A few of those people have a mission. And that mission is to figure out what happened.

Experts are taking whatever samples they can from a young female humpback to find out why she died.

"They're actually endangered," said Sue Pemberton with the California Academy of Sciences. "So it's really important, every single one that dies, it's important to know why."

The big concern is human interference. Whales can get entangled with boats, ships and fishing gear. They want to see if that's what happened. Now, if they could only get a little closer.

"We're at the mercy of the tides," Pemberton said. "It's not safe. We don't want to put any human beings in jeopardy, so we'll take what we can."

But meanwhile, kids are already learning things.

"You don't see a whale out here every day," one child said. "So it's really interesting."

Another added, "So close that you can actually like see its eyes and fins."

"It kind of looks kind of cool," said another girl. "And I never touched a dead whale before, so I really want to."

They're also learning more somber lessons.

"He's learning about death," said New York resident Quaylan Wilson. "I've been talking to him about death recently and what it means to be alive and be dead. And thought this would be a good opportunity to show the little guy what death looks like."

With death comes grief; an emotion some scientists say they've observed in whales.

"I feel bad for the mom," said whale onlooker Paige McKerral. "Cause they only have one calf. And that means that there's a really sad mommy whale."

Scientists could actually try to identify the whale's mother using a national DNA database. And if the tide would leave her on dry land for a while, they could find out other things; unlocking the mystery of why she died so young, only half the size of a full-grown humpback. But, the tide might not cooperate.

"We have to assume that she's gonna float out and we may not see her again," Pemberton said. "So we need to get what we can while she's this close to land."
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