The 75-foot beached whale found at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant will be used for conservation research focused on pregnant white sharks. Last week, the dead whale washed ashore in the same location a 2011 whale carcass. It is believed by NOAA scientists the whale was hit by a ship and sustained injuries causing its death. However, the whale was too far in the decomposing period for scientists to determine whether this was true. The 2011 whale death was determined to be caused by a ship strike.
The Fallbrook-based institute, Marine Conservation Science Institute, was offered the opportunity by NOAA to use the carcass for research purposes. MCSI jumped on the opportunity and decided to tow the whale offshore in an area with a large white shark population. Specifically, MCSI is looking for pregnant white sharks to study their habits. The goal is to tag white sharks as they come to feed on the carcass. The data collected by the tags, which will release after a given period of time, will be sent to satellites so MCSI can track the movements of pregnant white sharks. Additionally, researchers would like to take photographs of the sharks to see if they can identify them from past research studies.
The dead whale is believed to be a finback whale, and DNA samples taken by NOAA will be analyzed in a lab to determine the species. Finback whales can grow up to 75-85 feet once they reach maturity. This was the 12th whale to wash ashore onto the Southern California coast since 1983.
This blog post has been adapted from this UT-San Diego article: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/may/21/beached-dead-whale-towed/.