FORT BRAGG, CA, 10/24/22 — A 31.5-foot male humpback whale washed ashore north of Pudding Creek Beach in Fort Bragg on Saturday, marking the fourth whale stranding along the Mendocino coast this year — and the second deceased humpback to land at Fort Bragg’s shores in as many months.
Sarah Grimes, the Noyo Center for Marine Science’s stranding coordinator, told observers and volunteers on Sunday that she’s been getting one question more than any others: Why so many whales?
“That’s a lot for us,” she clarified. “That isn’t a lot in the big scheme of things.”
Humpback whales have been seen off the North Coast in large numbers over the past couple of months, which is an obvious reason for increased stranding numbers (of humpbacks, at least — May’s beaked whale and July’s sperm whale were more rare sightings for this area). But, as Grimes said, we may never definitively know the cause of death of this newest sub-adult whale or its juvenile counterpart which washed ashore near Glass Beach in September.
Since much about the effect of our changing climate on these creatures remains mysterious, scientific collection is all the more important; Stranded whales like these can help enhance data around whale mortality. Noyo Center volunteers were on scene Saturday afternoon to gather “A data,” including blubber, skin samples, and whale lice. On Sunday morning, the whale carcass had traveled slightly south down the beach and flipped over upright, when mammalogist and science advisor to the Noyo Center Jeff Jacobsen noted a laceration to its right side.
Though the whale was once again lying on its back Sunday afternoon, this led scientists and volunteers to keep an eye out for bruising and broken bones that would indicate death by ship strike.
“Nothing obvious points to ship strike at this time,” Grimes confirmed to The Mendocino Voice. The team hopes to further investigate Monday afternoon, according to Jacobsen.
On Sunday, Grimes and her team of volunteers worked to collect the whale’s pelvic bones for study at the California Academy of Sciences. They also gathered a piece of the whale’s baleen.
Prior to beginning Sunday’s necropsy, Grimes paid homage to the creature’s life.
“I can be very scientific, but it breaks my heart,” she said, adding, “Blessings on its spirit, on its soul. … It sucks that this keeps happening.”
The Noyo Center urges the public never to approach a dead marine mammal of this size. It is not only dangerous but also illegal under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act to remove any parts of a whale, unless authorized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Noyo Center for Marine Science conducts all marine mammal stranding activities under authorization by the National Marine Fisheries Service through a Stranding Agreement with the California Academy of Sciences, and under NOAA Fisheries MMHSRP permit no. 18786-0.
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.