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Fin Whale Strands at Stinson Beach

A Juvenile Fin Whale Strands at Stinson Beach

August 19, 2013

Stranded Fin Whale at Stinson Beach, August 19, 2013
© Dr. Shawn Johnson. The Marine Mammal Center.

A 42 ft juvenile fin whale washed ashore at Stinson Beach in Marin County, CA on August 19, 2013. The whale weighed approximately 22,000 lbs (10 metric tons or 10,000 kg). Based on the length, it was more than double its size at birth. That suggests that it recently weaned and was likely less than one year old.

A call was received from a volunteer at around 7 a.m. and The Marine Mammal Center assembled and dispatched a veterinary team to investigate. Sadly, the whale was found dead upon arrival.

The veterinary team has since performed a necropsy (animal autopsy) to try to determine the cause of death. Once the whale was rolled over, The Marine Mammal Center's Director of Veterinary Science, Dr. Shawn Johnson, identified possible trauma to the sternum area. Upon dissecting tissues beneath the skin, hemorrhage (bruising) and emphysema (air bubbles) were discovered on the right side of the whale extending from the mandible to the sternum. Hemmorhage was also discovered in the pericardium (membrane that surrounds the heart). There were no broken bones discovered.

Further studies will be conducted, including histopathology testing - microscopic examination of tissue samples.

All we can determine at this stage is that the animal appears to have suffered blunt trauma which either caused or likely contributed to its death. The cause of that trauma is unknown at this time. The whale was otherwise healthy. Additional testing will potentially reveal other findings.

The whale has now been buried at Stinson Beach by Marin county officials.

Did you know?

Even in death, marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Therefore it is illegal to disturb or take anything such as bones, from a carcass without a permit.

Stranded Fin Whale at Stinson Beach, CA, August 19, 2013. By Mark Perry.
© Photo by Mark Perry


This is the fifth whale that The Marine Mammal Center has responded to since January 1, 2013 and the fourth fin whale that the Center has responded to since 2010.

Since 1979, The Marine Mammal Center has responded to 31 cetacean strandings at Stinson Beach**, CA, including the fin whale from August 19, 2013. Correction: A stranded right whale dolphin from 2006 was previously reported as a northern right whale.

In 2012, a fin whale measuring approximately 47 ft in length washed ashore at Point Reyes. Dr. Frances Gulland, Senior Scientist at The Marine Mammal Center, along with Research Associate Lauren Rust, and National Park Service scientist Sarah Allen, examined the whale and completed the necropsy. They found that the whale had external wounds as well as trauma resulting in fractured ribs and vertebra, and had died as a result of a ship strike. Read the 2012 story here.

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 marine mammal on earth, next to blue whales, and belong to the family of baleen whales. Also called razorback whales, fin whales are federally listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Their only known predator, excluding humans, is the killer whale.

Threats* include:

  • historically, commercial whaling
  • collisions with vessels
  • entanglement in fishing gear
  • reduced prey abundance due to overfishing
  • habitat degradation
  • disturbance from low-frequency noise

*Source: NOAA Fisheries

**Includes Stinson, Seadrift, Steep Ravine and Red Rock

Learn more about fin whales

Read more about this story in the following media: ABC | Marin IJ | SFGate | KTVU | CBS | KQED | KRON 4 | Wired

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