Springtime along the Northern California coast is famous for its whale migrations, where gray whales make their annual trek north to Alaska for summer feeding. This means you can watch the whales in all their glory along the coast as they gently cruise through the Pacific Ocean. It also means dead whales are bound to wash ashore, and sometimes at an alarming rate.
A 41-foot whale carcass was discovered near Fort Funston on April 23, marking the fifth dead whale to be found near the San Francisco Bay since March 31. A video of the dead whale was posted to Twitter over the weekend:
A dead whale just washed onto the beach at Fort Funston in San Francisco pic.twitter.com/imb7czp8EF— ⚡️ Andrew So⚡️ (@AndrewDixonSo) April 24, 2021
While it’s not unusual to find these whales washing ashore during this time of year, the number of whales found this year is concerning for wildlife officials. The previous four whales were found in just the short span of nine days.
“It’s alarming to respond to four dead gray whales in just over a week because it really puts into perspective the current challenges faced by this species,” Dr. Pádraig Duignan, director of pathology at The Marine Mammal Center, said earlier this month.
The first whale found on March 31 was a 41-foot female gray whale, discovered at Chrissy Field. After being analyzed by the Marine Mammal Center, the whale was determined to be in good condition with no illnesses. In fact, the whale had a full stomach from a recent feeding, ruling out starvation or malnutrition.
The second whale was discovered at Moss Beach on April 3, where investigators determined it was hit by a ship in the San Francisco Bay. A third whale was found at the Berkeley Marina on April 7, with no cause of death currently announced. The next morning, a fourth whale was discovered at Muir Beach.
While the high numbers of dead whales have been alarming, this is hardly the first time we’ve seen mass casualties. In 2019, 13 dead whales washed ashore in the area, leaving researchers to believe they were starving on their trip from Mexico to Alaska. That year, an “unusual mortality event” was declared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
There are many reasons a whale could die during migration, including getting stuck in fishing nets, being struck by a ship or malnutrition. Of the five whales found in 2021, there seems to be no correlation between the various deaths.