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

By Associated Press
Published: December 11, 2023, 10:33am

SAN DIEGO — A 52-foot-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 long and weigh about 50 tons, or 100,000 pound. 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 (round trip up and down the coast in annual migrations.

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