The discovery Monday of a ninth dead gray whale in the San Francisco Bay Area in two months is “serious” cause for concern, a local scientist warned.
The latest whale was found on Ocean Beach in the city. Of the eight others discovered since March, three were killed by collisions with ships; the rest died of malnutrition, according to necropsies.
The cause of death of the Ocean Beach whale has yet to be determined. Its age and sex are still unknown.
“The death of nine gray whales … is a cause for serious concern and reinforces the need to continue to perform and share the results of these type of investigations with key decision-makers,” Dr. Padraig Duignan, chief research pathologist in the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, said in a statement.
“We are committed to partnering with organizations and individuals to find long-term environmental solutions to prevent these deaths in the future,” he added.
Gray whales are in the area now as they make their annual migration from Baja California, north to Alaska and beyond. There appear to be more whales than usual in the region — and more underweight animals, likely due to food changes amid the effects of climate change.
Thirty-one dead gray whales have been spotted along the entire West Coast since January — the most for this time of year since 2000. Dozens more have shown visible signs of malnourishment, and sightings of mother-calf pairs are down significantly.
Frances Gulland, a research associate at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, estimates that gray whale deaths could hit 60 or 70 by the end of the season.
“If this continues at this pace through May, we would be alarmed,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
Marine scientist Steven Swartz said 23% of the whales without calves his team has observed in Baja’s San Ignacio Lagoon this year were skinny. That’s more than three times higher than usual.