Was Dead Whale in Bay Struck by Boat?

Annie Schmidt/PRBO Conservation Science
Maybe this was a boating accident...
A young humpback whale sighted off the Farallones Sunday may have been struck by a boat and left to die, scientists fear.

The 25-foot whale was spotted by ecologist Annie Schmidt, a researcher at PRBO. Scientists afloat for field study within the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge hopped into a small dinghy for a closer look and discovered a lifeless whale floating on its back, and stricken with several foot to two-foot slashes on its underside and the base of its tail. The animal was newly dead. 

Annie Schmidt/PRBO Conservation Science
A bevy of photos, including the above, have been sent to veterinarian Frances Gulland at the Marine Mammal Center. It is not yet known if she will be able to determine cause of death from photographs alone -- or how big a boat may have struck the whale.

Mary Jane Schramm, the media coordinator for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary,  points out that Bay Area waters are teeming with whales right now. Because of upwelling associated with La Niña, local seas are stocked with the tiny krill humpbacks just love to eat. In fact, the scientists who spotted the dead whale later had to cut their research short because a pod of humpbacks were feeding so aggressively that they wouldn't get out of the way of the boat.

hump lungeCSCAPE.jpg
Cornelia Oedekoeven/NOAA
When humpbacks concentrate on feeding, they may not bother concentrating on approaching boats
The takeaway from this situation, according to Schramm: Boaters beware. Humpback and gray whales often travel very close to shore; if boaters notice lots of seabirds feeding on krill, it's best to keep an eye out for whales as well.

It is highly inadvisable to sail within 100 yards of a whale, cut across its path, or float between a whale and its calf.

Finally, a collision with a whale may not only be fatal for the whale. You can ask Ishmael about that.

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