PACIFICA (KPIX 5) — Marine biologists arrived in Pacifica Wednesday to conduct a necropsy to find out what killed a whale that washed up on the beach on Tuesday.
The scientists are from the Marine Mammal Center and the California Academy of Sciences and they’re hoping the necropsy will give some clues as to what’s going on with the gray whale population.
The biologists cut off sections of the whale’s blubber to analyze the tissue. The Pacifica Gray was the seventh to die in the Bay Area since March and the 30th found dead this year between California and Washington.
“It’s a female,” said Dr. Padraig Duignan, a pathologist at the Marine Mammal Center. “So far, from what we’ve done, we can tell she’s in pretty good body condition, so we’re going to be looking for cause of death other than malnutrition.”
The Pacifica whale carried 11-13” of fat, which is more than most of the others found dead. Some of them measured less than 6” of blubber. Gray whales only eat during the three summer months they spend in the Arctic, so scientists believe something is going wrong there.
“When these guys were heading south back in the fall … 50 percent of them, when they reached Mexico, were already judged to be in poor body condition,” Duignan said. “So it was the summer feeding last summer that was the problem.”
But the young female at Pacifica didn’t seem to be malnourished, so the detective work is just beginning as biologists try to figure out what killed her.
“It’s a lot of work,” Duignan said. “It’s going to be weeks of more laboratory work to get all these answers but this is where it starts…getting all the right samples.”
The whales are migrating north to their feeding grounds in the Arctic and should get there by about June. Scientists hope they have better luck feeding this year than they did last.
Meanwhile, Duignan says they will be examining the Pacifica whale’s tissue for signs of lethal bacteria or viruses. They will also check for signs of trauma that might indicate that the whale was struck by a boat.