A ship strike is the cause of death for a juvenile fin whale that washed ashore June 21.
The male juvenile fin whale washed ashore at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County on June 21. On June 22 a team from The Marine Mammal Center and National Park Service trekked out to the site and performed a necropsy to try to determine the cause of death. The fin whale measured approximately 47 feet in length. Dr. Frances Gulland, Senior Scientist at The Marine Mammal Center, along with research associate Lauren Rust, and National Park Service scientist, Sarah Allen, meticulously examined the whale and completed the tedious task of a necropsy, cataloging and documenting skin and tissue samples. They found that the whale had external wounds as well as trauma resulting in fractured ribs and vertebra.
“This is another dramatic example of negative human impact on marine mammals,” said Dr. Frances Gulland. “The spine of this whale was completely fractured as a result of a ship strike and it is very sad that this animal's life came to an end in this manner.”
Earlier in the week, the U.S Coast Guard reported a whale had dislodged from a vessel in Point Reyes and that sailors on a pilot boat had spotted the whale. It is not known if this is the same whale.
In 2010, the carcass of a fin whale washed ashore at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and a necropsy determined the cause of death in that case to be from a ship strike as well.
Fin whales are the second largest whales on earth next to blue whales and belong to the family of baleen whales.
Also called razorback whale, fin whales are federally listed as endangered and are rarely observed by land or sea in California or the Gulf of the Farallones.
In June 2011, conservation groups filed a petition that if passed, would set a mandatory speed limit for large ships traveling through California's marine sanctuaries. The petition was filed by Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Center, Pacific Environment, and Friends of the Earth. Read the response from NOAA to learn the next steps to reducing whale deaths as a result of ship strikes.