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Endangered Fin Whale Found At Fort Funston Likely Died From Ship Strike

By Jamie Ferrell

Endangered Fin Whale Found At Fort Funston Likely Died From Ship Strike

This is the Bay’s 5th dead whale in less than a month.

After a round of exciting whale sightings to mark the beginning of spring, things have taken a sad turn this month as 5 whales have already washed up dead on the shores of the San Francisco Bay.

On Friday, April 23, a dead fin whale was found at Fort Funston, which is just south of the San Francisco Zoo. The World Wildlife Fund classifies fin whales as “endangered,” with an estimated 50,000-90,000 individuals total. They are generally found in the Gulf of California; the Arctic,; and the Coral Triangle near Malaysia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. The fin whale is characterized by its lower jaw, which is bright white on the right side and black on the left side. It’s also the second largest mammal in the world, right behind the blue whale.

The Marine Mammal Center announced yesterday that their own experts, together with teams from UC Santa Cruz and the Academy of Sciences, performed a necropsy on the 46-foot juvenile fin whale. The Marine Mammal Center is the world’s largest marine mammal hospital. They suspect that the whale died from “blunt force trauma due to ship strike.”

“This is the 5th whale necropsy investigation performed by our experts in the San Francisco Bay Area this month, and the first fin whale response since 2018. The previous dead whale responses this year were all gray whales,” wrote the Center on Twitter.

During its 46-year history, the Center has responded to 6 other fin whales. 5 of them also died from ship strike.

“By investigating deaths like this, we can learn more about how human activity and changing environmental trends are impacting large whales,” says Barbie Halaska, Necropsy Manager for The Marine Mammal Center, in a press release. “Ship strikes are the biggest threat fin whales face, so this investigation helps us understand the challenges these animals face and inform decision-makers so we can safely share the ocean with marine wildlife.”

Two of the four gray whales that washed up in the Bay Area this month are also believed to have died from trauma due to ship strikes. The Marine Mammal Center performed necropsies on all of them.

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“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,” said Dr. Pádraig Duignan, Director of Pathology at The Marine Mammal Center, in a press release earlier this month.  “Our team hasn’t responded to this number of dead gray whales in such a short span since 2019 when we performed a startling 13 necropsies in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Two of April’s beached gray whales were found at Angel Island State Park on April 1 and 8. Both of them were left with an undetermined cause of death. Two other gray whales were found on April 3 and 8 at Fitzgerald Marine Preserve and Muir Beach, respectively. They both likely died from trauma due to ship strikes.

In the event that you find a dead whale or a whale in distress, the Marine Mammal Center urges the public to call their hotline at 415-289-SEAL (7325).

 

[Featured image: Barbie Halaska © The Marine Mammal Center via Twitter]