A dead gray whale was found floating in the waters near Torrey Pines State Beach Thursday morning, San Diego Lifeguard officials confirmed.
The young whale -- measuring approximately 15 to 20 feet in length -- was discovered about 250 yards off the shore. Lifeguards confirmed the animal was dead when they reached it just before 10 a.m.
Aerial video showed dozens of birds hovering over the carcass, which was floating belly up in the water.
San Diego Fire-Rescue spokesman Lee Swanson said lifeguards were waiting to see if the whale would drift to the shore before beginning any recovery operations. Swanson said officials were trying to determine if the whale would wash up on a city or state beach in order to then decide who would then be responsible for getting rid of it.
Swanson said lifeguards don't have the equipment to haul it off, so officials would need to hire a contractor for the clean-up.
Marine Safety Lt. James Gartland said there was no threat of the animal washing onto the shore. Ultimately, he said officials decided to tow the whale into Fiesta Island on Mission Bay in an operation that would take several hours.
Gartland said the whale would be towed in by the tail. After that, he said a national marine fisheries team will come out and take samples from the whale in order to determine its cause of death. Once that's complete, a team will dispose of the carcass by hauling it to the city dump.
Gartland said it appears the whale has been floating in the water for weeks, as its carcass is very bleached out. He said the clean-up would be inevitably smelly.
“It’s really pungent; it’s usually a pretty stinky operation,” he explained.
Gartland said the last time a whale was found near a local beach was around this time last year near Sunset Cliffs.