Beached blue whale was likely struck by ship

A dead whale that washed up on a Marin County beach this week likely died after being hit by a ship, according to officials at the Marine Mammal Center.

The adult female blue whale was first reported dead on Agate Beach in Bolinas on Thursday and a team of 25 scientists and volunteers gathered Saturday to perform a necropsy in order to determine how it died.

The roughly 79-foot-long whale was found to have suffered injuries along its entire left side, including hemorrhaged and necrotic muscle and 10 ribs that were broken in multiple places.

Also, its spine was badly fractured and the skull showed signs of trauma, according to Marine Mammal Center officials.

Officials with the center said in a statement Saturday:

“These injuries are indicative of significant blunt force trauma that is consistent with ship strikes.”

This particular whale is familiar to the scientific community.

Based on information about its unique fluke markings stored in a long-term photo-identification database, this whale was first identified in California in 1999 and has been seen in at least 11 different years, mostly in the Santa Barbara Channel area.

Barbie Halaska, a research scientist at the center, said:

“It is a tragedy that this whale’s story ended due to vessel collision. … These types of examinations have enabled the scientific community to make recommendations for slower shipping speeds and route changes, and hopefully that will help future whales.”

Ship collisions, along with fishing gear entanglements, are a leading cause of whale deaths.

A full necropsy report, based on the information gathered Saturday and testing on skin and blubber samples, will be available within two weeks.