Fin whale stranding, November 2011

Researchers from the SWFSC conduct necropsy on stranded fin whale

On Saturday, November 19, 2011, the USCG contacted NMFS staff in the SW Region to report a dead stranded whale at the foot of cliffs in Point Loma, San Diego. The stranding network team from the SWFSC responded and identified the animal as a fresh dead fin whale; however, tides prevented access to the carcass. 

fin whale pt loma 
  fin whale with fetus

The whale was successfully towed by the San Diego lifeguards on Wednesday, 23 November, to Fiesta Island, Mission Bay, San Diego. It was met by a necropsy team from the NMFS-SWFSC, SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego State University/SD Museum of Natural History. The whale was necropsied and samples collected to the extent possible.

fin whale necropsy 
  fin whale necropsy

The team found a 4m section of vertebral fracturing, indicating strong likelihood of a ship strike as cause of death. The whale was towed out to sea starting early Friday morning, 25 November, and sunk in 800m water depth a few miles west of La Jolla. The sinking effort is a partnership between Scripps Institution of Oceanography, NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and Virgin Oceanic. The effort will be to create a whale fall that will be accessible next year by SIO researchers using a Remotely Operated Vehicle and later visited by the Virgin Oceanic submarine. Decomposing whales have recently been a significant source of new marine biological discoveries in the Monterey Bay Canyon and Scripps researchers plan to continue this effort off La Jolla CA in conjunction with Virgin Oceanic.