Whale found on beach may have been attacked by orca

A young, humpback whale — found severely decomposed Sunday on Esplanade Beach — may have been attacked by an orca before it washed up on the shore, Marine Mammal Center experts said Tuesday.

Center experts have been testing the carcass of the whale, a 27-foot female less than a year old, which was likely dead for at least four days before it caught the attention of beachgoers.

Police officers were not called to the scene, leaving the incident completely in the hands of the Marine Mammal Center, Pacifica police Capt. Fernando Realyvasquez said.

When humpback whales wash up on the beach, which has happened 16 times between 2002 and 2006, their remains are typically left for the high tide to sweep back into the ocean, once a necropsy and other testing has been performed, center spokeswoman Mieke Eerkens said.

The last time a whale washed up on the San Mateo County coast was 2005, Eerkens said.

Though the carcass was so severely decomposed it wasn’t possible to pinpoint a cause of death, Eerkens said the carcass did contain lesions consistent with an orca attack. There were no injuries indicating the animal was killed by a ship, Eerkens said.

By Tuesday morning, everything appeared to be back to normal at Esplanade Beach.

Nearby resident Andy Johnson saw the carcass early Sunday morning, when it, apparently with its stomach cut open, caused a pungent odor that took over the beach.

“The beach reeked,” Johnson said. “It’s all gone, now.”

tramroop@examiner.com

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