When whales are spotted making their annual migration off San Diego, they are a visual wonder. Tourists and others pay to go on whale-watching ventures.
But when a whale dies and washes ashore, it can be a problem.
Take the dead, 50-foot fin whale that washed ashore below the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant on Monday. Two days earlier, the whale had been spotted lifeless off Coronado.
The first plan was to tow the mammoth carcass at high tide to Fiesta Island in Mission Bay so it could be subjected to a necropsy to determine its cause of death. That's been done in the past in similar situations.
But this time the plan had to be scrubbed Tuesday. The Parks and Recreation Department does not have the equipment necessary to take a carcass this size to a landfill once the necropsy is finished.
The current plan is to have city lifeguards tow the whale offshore, maybe a half-mile, using one of the city's twin-engine, 35-foot fire-rescue vessels.
A tow line attached to the whale would be transferred to a stronger craft operated by the Marine Conservation Science Institute, a nonprofit research organization. It would then take the whale several miles offshore.
Lifeguards have secured the whale to the rocky cove to keep it from floating away, said lifeguard Lt. Greg Buchanan.
The process can be dangerous; even a dead whale can inflict damage when its tail begins flopping around.
And the smell?
"The word today was: 'Not that bad,' " said Buchanan. "We'll see about tomorrow. It's not going to get any better."
If all goes well, the whale will be consigned to the deep during Wednesday's mid-afternoon high tide.