An estimated 40 foot to 50 foot dead whale washed up at Bolsa Chica State Beach Wednesday, May 19, leaving authorities to grapple with how to rid of the mammoth mammal.
It’s unknown how the creature died, what type of whale it was or how long it had been dead. State Parks lifeguards reported the whale had been found at the Huntington Beach shore about 6:45 p.m., just as the sun dipped down.
Authorities typically opt for three options when it comes to discarding dead whales:
They can tow it out to sea by boat if tides cooperate and the waves can help dislodge it from the sand.
They can cover it in the sand with heavy machinery if there’s space to bury the carcass deep enough.
They can cut it up and have it hauled to a landfill like had to be done in 2016 when a 40-foot whale washed up at a tricky, rocky area of Lower Trestles.
State Parks Superintendent Kevin Pearsall, late Wednesday, said the low morning tides at Bolsa Chica were not favoring pulling it out to sea, with the whale expected to be on dry sand by morning. He was hoping to get heavy equipment to bury it, since that stretch off beach has plentiful sand.
“We can dig and bury,” he said, noting they buried a 90-foot whale at Bolsa Chica back in 2008. Another dead whale was buried in 2019 off Huntington Beach’s city beach.
Pearsall said the whale was so bloated and decayed, it was hard to say what kind of whale it was, likely a humpback or gray whale. The whale was washed up near Tower 17.
Dead whales washing up on shore have become a more common sight in recent years, with an ongoing “Unusual Mortality Rate” declared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2019 following an alarming number reported from Mexico to Alaska.
Many were starved and emaciated.
The designation prompts “a scientific investigation into the cause,” with researchers studying gray whale food sources, looking at photo documentation of where they are feeding, and monitoring changes in migration patterns.
This year’s reported deaths of gray whales, so far, are far lower than previous years, according to the most recent figures released on May 6.
In 2019, there were 122 gray whale deaths in the United States, and 214 reported from Mexico to Canada. Last year’s numbers were 79 in the U.S. and 174, respectively. So far this year, there have been just 17 in the U.S. and 66 when also accounting for Mexico and Canada.
Most of the deaths occur during gray whale’s northern migration from Mexico, where they spend winters, as they travel back up toward their feeding ground of Alaska. In recent weeks, multiple whales have washed up dead in Northern California.
But it’s unknown if this dead whale is a gray whale. In March, a humpback whale was found dead on Dockweiler Beach in the South Bay.
Earlier this week, the Center for Biological Diversity announced the California Department of Fish and Wildlife ordered the state’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery to close early to avoid entangling endangered humpback whales migrating along California’s coastline. The season typically ends June 30 in central California and July 15 in northern California.
Source: Orange County Register