SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - A dead gray whale washed ashore at Ocean Beach on Monday, bringing the total this year to nine in the San Francisco Bay Area -- a cause for serious concern, scientists said.
Dr. Padraig Duignan, chief research pathologist at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., said that biologists have observed gray whales in "poor body conditions" during their annual migration in 2019, potentially due to "anomalous oceanographic conditions," in other words, warming oceanic conditions, which have contributed to shifting food sources.
What's also happening this year is that there are more gray whales in the San Francisco Bay than usual, he said, as the population continues their northerly migration this spring. Why that is still hasn't been determined.
So far, the center has completed necropsies on eight gray whales in 2019. The necropsy for the whale found Monday is scheduled for Tuesday. Experts will determine the cause of death, the length, age and sex of the whale.
Three of these whales died because of ship strikes and four died of malnutrition, the center said. The cause for the eighth has not yet been determined.
“This reinforces the need to continue to perform and share the results of these type of investigations with key decision-makers,” Duignan said. “We are committed to partnering with organizations and individuals to find long-term environmental solutions to prevent these deaths in the future."
Meanwhile, a view from SkyFox en route to the whale also captured a vivid scene of a adult male California sea lion taking large bites out of a fish, slapping it around in the Pacific Ocean, as seagulls looked on, also wanting a bite or two.
Dr. Cara Field, staff veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center, said that sea lions are very "opportunistic feeders." This sea lion is using a "flinging technique" during foraging that temporarily stuns the prey by taking it out of its natural element, she said.
Most often, she noted, these adult male sea lions eat this way with smaller shark species, including leopard and thresher sharks.