A 70-foot female blue whale, that officials believe was struck by a ship, is seen washed ashore on the Northern California coast Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009, near Fort Bragg, Calif. Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the whale was spotted on the shores near Fort Bragg in Mendocino County Monday night, hours after an ocean survey vessel reported hitting a whale a few miles away. The dead animal has a gash on its back estimated to be more than 8 feet long.
A 70-foot, female blue whale that officials believe was struck by a ship has washed ashore on the Northern California coast in what scientists are calling a rare occurrence.
The find is sure to draw spectators as the experts try to figure out what to do with the creature.
"This is a big deal," said Thor Holmes, curator of the vertebrate museum at Humboldt State University and a member of the California Marine Mammal Stranding Network told the Press Democrat.
The whale was first spotted on shore near Fort Bragg in Mendocino County on Monday night, hours after an ocean survey vessel reported hitting a whale a few miles away. The boat was just six feet longer than the whale, but it won the battle. Crew members of the 78-foot Pacific Star said they were seven miles out and traveling about 5 knots when they felt a shudder. Soon a very bloody whale surfaced and they realized what had happened.
Blue whales are the world's largest mammals and usually swim off shore and in deep water.
Students from California State University, Humboldt, examined the whale's massive body as it lay on its side in a rocky cove.
"I was personally jazzed just to see the animal," said Thor Holmes, a lecturer in mammology at the school. He has examined other whale species that washed ashore but never a blue whale.
The whale had two gashes on its back -- at least one of which was deep enough to cut through the blubber down to the vertebral column. It otherwise appeared to be in good health.
It's unusual for blue whales to wash ashore, but this is the second time its happen in a week. Another blue whale washed up in Monterey County after being hit by another ship.
Although blue whales are considered endangered, experts say they have recently made a comeback and now number several thousand.
Some blue whales feed in the waters off Central and Northern California this time of year then migrate elsewhere to breed, said Dawn Goley, an associate professor of zoology at the Humboldt campus.
Researchers have taken skin and blubber samples from the beached animal to see what contaminants it may have been exposed to and what population group it comes from.
Disposing of beached whales can be problematic. The following TV report shows how an Oregon county tried to use dynamite to blow up the carcus of a beached whale. As you might imagine, it wasn't very successful: