A 79-foot blue whale washed up ashore in Agate Beach, 10 miles north of San Francisco, California. 

Experts analyzed the specimen and determined that it died after being struck by a boat, resulting in fractured ribs, spine, and blunt trauma to the skull. The carcass will be left to be eaten by birds due to the nearby reef that forbids ships from getting close enough to tow the whale off the coast.

Blue Whale
The whale had been seen before. In 1999, it was seen swimming in the nearby coasts alongside its calf. Image credit: Twitter via @Westmarinefeed.

An opportunity to analyze blue whales

The whale was found on Thursday. Scientists from the Marine Mammal Center and the California Academy of Sciences agree that it is a young adult female. A full autopsy was performed on Saturday after the specimen was salvaged for skin, blood and blubber samples.

By comparing its tail with actual photographs provided by the Cascadia Research Collective, they determined that it was a blue whale.

Blue Whale
Only 2,800 blue whales are living off the Californian coast. Thankfully, the carcass was in a decent state, allowing scientists to analyze a blue whale in a different setting. Image credit: Twitter via @Westmarinefeed.

Usually, when a ship hits a whale, the carcass sinks to the ocean. Because this one washed up ashore and whaling is forbidden, it represents the perfect opportunity for analyzing the biology of blue whales.

Researchers took the whale’s liver, stomach, an ear, and an eye for analysis. This will reveal what the whale fed on, whether it was sick or not, and if it has been affected by marine pollution to some extent.

Just like car crashes, ships crash with whales

Whales are more at risk of being hit by ships during migration season. Besides, cargo ships are so big and cumbersome that it is rare that operators are aware of when they hit whales, even if they are as big as a blue whale.

A voluntary federal policy was issued to ship operators, asking them to slow shipping speeds to half as they approach the Golden Gate Bridge, where whales are known to pass as they migrate. They tend to do so during spring, as they swim from the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Costa Rica up towards Oregon, Washington, and California.

Blue Whale
Studies suggest that a third of all whales found dead have died from collisions with marine vessels. Image credit: Monterey Herald.

Ships hitting whales is often seen as cars hitting humans. They can result in mild to severe injuries, including death. Whales and dolphins colliding with ships go vastly unreported.

Additionally, at least 1 out of every ten humpback whales shows scars from being hit by sharp objects. The simplest way to avoid this would be to keep marine mammals away from ships, but it’s still much more complicated than how it sounds.

Currently, cargo ship speed is not being regulated as a way to protect whales from being hit, due to the enormous financial costs of cargo arriving late at its destined port.

Source: Monterey Herald