SEASIDE – A dead fin whale washed ashore at Monterey State Beach in Seaside Sunday morning, prompting local researchers to take a closer look at the animal and collect samples for further study.
The whale landed at the state beach, just to the right of Monterey Tides Hotel, around 11 a.m. Sunday, according to Robin Dunkin, director of the Long Marine Lab Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Dunkin said the stranding network was made aware of the dead animal by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, which reported a whale floating in the water off Monterey’s Municipal Wharf No. 2 on Saturday. The whale came to shore a day later, at which time a team from the stranding network came out to “assess the animal and collect data,” Dunkin said.
The Long Marine Lab Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a program out of UC Santa Cruz that responds to dead marine mammal carcasses primarily in Santa Cruz County. However, it also works in tandem with a stranding network out of Moss Landing Marine Labs to respond to incidents across the Monterey Bay Area.
When a team from Long Marine Lab arrived to examine the beached fin whale Sunday, Dunkin said they found the dead animal still partially submerged in water. The whale’s position made it difficult to undergo full examination, Dunkin added, explaining that network volunteers instead performed a partial necropsy (animal autopsy) of the whale carcass.
The dead whale – still sitting ashore on Monterey State Beach as of midday Monday – is 41-feet long and had been dead around 36-48 hours before making landfall, according to Dunkin. The responding team collected several blubber, baleen and fecal samples for a variety of scientific studies that will divulge more information as to why the whale died and whether the death was related to human interaction.
Dunkin said determining the cause of death, in this case, will be difficult as it was heavily predated and had already begun decomposing in the water before coming to shore. Speaking about the predation of the carcass, Dunkin said multiple species of sharks – including likely a great white – preyed on the animal, either when it was already dead or as it was dying. Dunkin said predation would not be the cause of death but that there were lots of “cookie cutter shark bites” across the whale’s body, as well as evidence that “a very large shark had taken a couple of chunks” out of the whale.
Asked about what will happen to the dead fin whale, Dunkin said it is typically up to the municipality that manages the beach, in this case, California State Parks, to determine whether a stranded dead animal is removed or not. The Monterey District of California State Parks could not be reached for comment ahead of The Herald’s afternoon print deadline. Still, Dunkin said the conversation over next steps to take with the whale “will be ongoing over the next few days.” If stakeholders opt to remove the carcass, options for removal include either towing the animal offshore or burial, either of which Dunkin said “is no trivial matter.”
Justin Viezbicke, a stranding coordinator with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service said ideally a dead animal washed ashore would decay naturally but that there needs to be a balance with concerns of leaving a carcass, namely its smell.
“It really depends on where it lands and what is nearby,” he said.