ENVIRONMENT

52-foot-long dead fin whale washes up on San Diego beach; cause of death unclear

Dec 11, 2023, 5:09 PM | Updated: 5:19 pm

Researchers from NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center inspected a 52-foot-long female fin whale ...

Researchers from NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center inspected a 52-foot-long female fin whale that died and washed onto Mission Beach on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in San Diego. Officials said there were no obvious signs leading to a cause of death. (K.C. Alfred, The San Diego Union-Tribune)

(K.C. Alfred, The San Diego Union-Tribune)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A 52-foot-long (16-meter-long) dead fin whale washed up on a San Diego beach over the weekend and officials said there was no obvious sign of the cause of death.

The young female whale was found Sunday in Mission Beach and was later towed out to sea, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Fin whales are the second largest whales in the world after blue whales. They can grow to 70 to 80 feet (21 to 24 meters) long and weigh about 50 tons, or 100,000 pounds (45,000 kilograms). They are endangered and thought to number around 8,000 off the West Coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“It’s probably in the first couple years of its life,” Michael Milstein, a spokesperson for NOAA Fisheries West Coast region, told the newspaper. “It didn’t appear to have been dead very long because there wasn’t much evidence of scavenging or decomposition. But there was also no obvious sign of the cause of death.”

In cases where whales have been killed by ship strikes, there often is evidence of propeller marks, and observers didn’t notice anything like that, Milstein said. He said researchers collected tissue samples and will analyze them to try to determine a cause of death.

A bulldozer, Jet Ski and boat worked together to roll and move the whale down the sand toward the water as about 100 people looked on.

After several rope breaks, the whale was finally moved off the beach. Lifeguards towed it about a mile and a half offshore where “it suddenly sunk to the bottom,” lifeguard Lt. Jacob Magness said in a text message.

Milstein said it is not common to see fin whales stranding along the West Coast. The species tends to stay in deeper water compared with gray whales, which travel from 10,000 to 14,000 miles (16,000 to 22,500 kilometers) round trip up and down the coast in annual migrations.

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52-foot-long dead fin whale washes up on San Diego beach; cause of death unclear