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No Way To Determine Cause Of Death For Whale That Washed Up In Sonoma County

BODEGA (CBS SF) -- The carcass of a 28-foot juvenile gray whale is too decomposed to determine why it became stranded Sunday on Portuguese Beach on the Sonoma Coast, the Marine Mammal Center's head veterinarian said Tuesday morning.

"It will remain unknown why it was stranded," said Dr. Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands.

State Parks sector superintendent Mike Lair said environmental scientists have examined the whale and there are several options for what to do with it.

It's up to environmental scientists to come up with something, Lair said. He said it could be towed out by the U.S. Coast Guard, or could be buried or left for the tide to return it to sea.

"It's going to be tide-dependent. It got washed up, so we know the water was that high. It's just a matter of how big the tides are," Lair said.

"I think we are just waiting to see what happens," he said.

Because State Parks is still receiving calls from the public about the whale, some signs need to be posted at the site, Lair said.

The whale can't remain on the beach if it starts to rot, he said.

Several whale strandings have been reported in the region since last month, including two in Pacifica and one in Half Moon Bay.

"This is not an elevated number of strandings," Johnson said.

It is not uncommon for dead whales to wash ashore during the spring whale migration from breeding grounds in Mexico to feeding grounds near Alaska, Johnson said.

Calves can be separated from whale pods during the migration and be attacked by killer whales or struck by ships, Johnson said.

The Marine Mammal Center took tissue samples from the juvenile gray whale on Portuguese Beach for future study, not to determine the cause of death, according to Johnson.

The California Academy of Sciences conducts necropsies of intact whales, Johnson said.


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