Dead whales linked to increase in food

Heavy winds have stirred up nutrients in the ocean this year, luring whales to the coast — such as the one that was found dead at Ocean Beach on Monday morning.

The 50-foot whale, which had been dead for at least a few days, was found by a park ranger between Lawton and Kirkham streets around 7 a.m.

It was the third dead whale seen in the Bay Area since July, including one last week that was dragged by a container ship through to the Port of Oakland.

Strong winds have churned up sediment, which has led to an increase of krill off the coastline. The crustaceans are a key food source for baleen whales.

“There’s an abundance of krill right now, crustaceans that are very fatty and nutrient-rich,” said spokeswoman Mary Jane Schramm of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. “This has been a very extraordinary year. It’s exciting there’s so much productivity.”

With the increase in whale activity, marine experts from the Farallones sanctuary are warning large vessels to keep a close eye on the water.

“Ship strikes can be high through the Golden Gate area and vessels should be on the lookout, taking whatever action to avoid hitting them,” Schramm said.

On Monday, tissue and blubber samples from the whale were being taken to be stored at the Marine Mammal Center for use by future researchers.

After the necropsy, the carcass will be buried in the sand. The disposal of the whales falls to the Golden Gate National Recreation Center, which owns the land.

This dead whale is not the same as the one that was dragged to Oakland last week. That whale was towed out to sea for disposal, but it was missing its head. The whale found at Ocean Beach still had its head attached.

“It’s rare you find out the actual cause of death,” Schramm said about how the whale died.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

Friendly waters

Whales from all around the world travel through the Bay Area.

Gray whales
– Where they live: Between Alaska and Mexico
– Seen in the Bay Area: Late November

Humpbacks
– Where they live: As far north as Washington down to Mexico
– Seen in the Bay Area: Summer season

Blue whales
– Where they live: As far north as Washington down to Costa Rica
– Seen in the Bay Area: Summer season

Fin whales
– Where they live: Between California and Alaska
– Seen in the Bay Area: Year-round

Minke whales
– Where they live: Between California and Alaska
– Seen in the Bay Area: Year-round

Source: National Marine Fishery Service

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