On April 23, the fifth whale in less than a month washed ashore in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. It was found near Fort Funston, according to the Associated Press, and as of this reporting, the cause of death on that particular whale has not been determined, but it’s likely it was hit by a ship.
Although the discovery of dead whales this time of year isn’t highly unusual, this number of them is. This is the time of year that is the beginning of the gray whale’s migration north, and California can be both a good place to see them and a bad place for boats to hit them. At the end of March and beginning of April, four dead whales were found in just 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 was a 41-foot female gray whale, which was found at Crissy’s Field on March 31. Then, just a few days later, a second washed ashore in Moss Beach in San Mateo County, followed by a third that was found floating on April 7 near the Berkeley Marina. The fourth was discovered a day later on Marin County’s Muir Beach.
It’s not clear what killed any of them for certain, but the AP wrote that “a necropsy of a whale found at Muir Beach revealed significant bruising and hemorrhaging to muscle around the whale’s jaw and neck vertebrae consistent with blunt force trauma due to ship strike.”
This time of year, the whales are making their way from Mexico to California and eventually onto the Arctic. It’s a 10,000 mile journey from their breeding grounds in Mexico to colder waters, and it’s a journey fraught with peril. In 2019, 13 gray whales washed ashore, prompting researchers to announce they heard the animals could be starving to death. Between malnutrition, the imminent possibility of getting tangled in fishing gear, and ship strikes, migrating whales don’t have an easy journey.
“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,” Dr. Pádraig Duignan, Director of Pathology at The Marine Mammal Center, told KRON4 recently.