Scientists Begin Studying, Disposing of Dead Whale

Removing the dead whale is an urgent priority for the California Department of Parks

The carcass of a fin whale that washed up along the San Diego County coastline twice in one week has been cut into pieces to be trucked to a landfill, state officials said Wednesday.

After an attempt to tow the dead whale out to sea failed, officials are changing their strategy in the hopes of permanently removing the 57-foot carcass that has decomposed significantly since it was first washed ashore.

First spotted near San Diego Bay’s mouth on May 17, the whale then washed up below in Point Loma near Gatchell Road along Sunset Cliffs.

Four days later, the Marine Conservation Science Institute (MCSI) and San Diego lifeguards towed the mammal out to sea.

But it took only a matter of days for the tides to bring the dead whale back to shore.

The carcass appeared Sunday on the sand in the Border Field State Park near Monument Road, about a mile north of the U.S.-Mexico Border.

On Thursday, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cut the carcass into pieces with the help of heavy equipment like a backhoe and a special contractor who handles similar projects.

The researchers are expected to study the 57-foot, adult male fin whale Thursday and Friday, so they are removing sections at a time as NOAA completes its examination.

One fun fact: They may be able to figure out the whale's age by checking the depth of the ear wax.

"At this point, we are looking to see what we can learn from these animals. Not having many of these animals come ashore, any opportunity we have to look inside them to look at internal organs -- to look at pretty much anything in here -- is an opportunity for us to gain more information," said Justin Viezbicke with NOAA.

However, because the whale has been decaying for so long, they're limited on the amount of information they can collect, so they may not be able to determine a cause of death.

Native American Traditionalists also spent Thursday taking as many parts of the whale as possible for educational purposes.

Officials estimate the entire whale will be removed by Friday morning.  

Removing the dead whale is an urgent priority for the California Department of Parks.

Not only is it costing more in staff hours to protect the whale from onlookers, but the presence of all that activity is dangerous to the Snowy Plover and the California Least Tern - two species of endangered birds that are nesting a few hundred feet away.

Superintendent of the San Diego Coast District of California State Parks Clay Phillips said the option of a second tow was ruled out because of the state of decomposition.

If the tow should fail, it would be irresponsible to accidentally “pass the buck” to another jurisdiction, Phillips said. 

No decision has been made on which landfill will receive the remains.

View Tale of San Diego's Dead Whale in a larger map

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