ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. - The 30-foot carcass of a gray whale washed ashore at the Bolsa Chica Inlet, attracting onlookers, but also scientists trying to figure out what may have killed it.
It's not unusual for the large mammals to wash ashore during big storms, especially during their migration past our coast. Scientists from NOAA and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center are taking samples for a necropsy, telling us it doesn't seem to be the same gray whale towed from San Diego last week, where a couple of dead whales have washed ashore.
It doesn't have the kind of bite marks that would indicate it being attacked and killed by orcas recently staying off our coast longer than usual during their own migration.
"It's important to try to figure out what killed it, if we can," said Dr. Alissa Deming from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, because the gray whales are still under what is called "an unusual mortality event" where dead gray whales are being found along the coast. Their population is only about half of what it was 7years ago, going from about 27,000 in 2016 to about 14,500 last year.
The Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project off Point Vicente in Palos Verdes says this year's migration seems to be, so far, the lowest southbound count in 40 years. It may be that the whales are traveling further offshore and out of sight for volunteers.
The gray whale migration from Alaska to Mexico, which passes by our coast, is the longest migration of any mammal on earth.
It's possible the whale will be buried, instead of towed out to sea, since conditions are somewhat difficult with recent storms and king tides.