Fin Whale Killed By Ship, Necropsy Finds
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Aired 11/23/11 on KPBS News.
A dead 67-foot fin whale was towed away from Point Loma at high tide today to Fiesta Island. On Friday, it will be sunk in the ocean.
Biologists have finished their necropsy of a dead fin whale.
Siri Hakala with NOAA said the necropsy on the dead 67-foot fin whale shows whale died from a ship strike.
"We found evidence of fracturing of the spine," said Hakala. "Always the possibility there could be another cause of death after further analysis of all the tissues, but the answer for the day is the cause of death was a ship strike."
The whale washed ashore Saturday in San Diego. It will be towed to sea and sunk Friday.
The dead 67-foot fin whale was towed at high tide Wednesday from Point Loma to Fiesta Island, where biologists performed a necropsy to determine the cause of death.
"We're collecting a bunch of ancillary samples for scientists around the nation," said Siri Hakala, a biologist with NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego. "We are taking blubber samples, blood samples and other tissue samples for various studies to get baseline data on hormone levels and to get some genetics."
She said because the whale was pregnant, the hormone levels will give researchers a baseline to use for future testing of fin whales, which are on the Endangered Species List.
Hakala said biologists will examine the skeleton to determine if the whale was killed by a ship strike.
"This particular species happens to be a species that comes in on the bows of ships more often than other species, they like to 'bowride' and so they're the ones that happen to get struck," said Hakala.
Bowriding is when the whale rides the pressure wave that comes off the bow of a large vessel, according to Hakala.
"They come in close and they like to come right up next to a vessel, so therefore they are much more vulnerable to getting hit by a ship, and that is what we think may have happened to this whale," Hakala said.
She said fin whales are not coastal dwellers, so it's rare for them to wash ashore.
"Since 2001 there have been 19 strandings [of fin whales] in the state of California," she said. "So that's not many for this entire coastline. And that only forms about 8 percent of the large or baleen whale strandings that have occurred."
On Tuesday, scientists examined a roughly 5-foot-long fetus apparently expelled by the bloating whale some 48 hours after it died.
The fin whale will be towed out to sea Friday morning somewhere west of La Jolla, and sunk. Richard Branson, the Virgin CEO, has donated the resources to sink the fin whale, according to MSNBC.
Branson intends to document the decomposition of the whale, and possibly offer submarine tours of the carcass in the future, according to MSNBC.
"We'll have the Virgin Oceanic ship right in the middle of the bay off Fiesta Island. We're going to work with Parks and Recreation and San Diego Lifeguards to get the whale off of the beach using tractors and other means," said Eddie Kisfaludy, with Virgin Oceanic. "We'll put the whale in the middle of the bay, hook into it using our ship, take it offshore and add weight to the whale until it sinks."
Kisfaludy said Virgin Oceanic is donating the ship and fuel cost to the effort.
He said the ship is a 25-foot catamaran (once sailed around the world by Steve Fossett) which has been converted into a support ship for marine research.
The fin whale washed up near the Point Loma Waste Treatment Plant Saturday afternoon.
Fin whales, nicknamed the "greyhound of the sea" because they can swim as fast as 23 mph, are the second-largest species of whale and can grow up to 75 feet and weigh 70 tons.