Dead whale washes ashore in Sonoma County as migration season nears end

Juvenile gray whale is just the latest in a string of the dead mammals to wash ashore

A 28-foot gray whale carcass that washed up on a Northern California beach this weekend may be among the last seen this season as the giant mammal’s migration season comes to an end, marine life experts said Tuesday.

The carcass of the male juvenile washed up on Sonoma County’s Portuguese Beach on Friday night or Saturday morning but had been dead for some time, said Dr. Shawn Johnson, head veterinarian at the Marine Mammal Center’s science department.

The carcass was too decomposed to determine its cause of death, Johnson said.

This was just the latest of a string of gray whales that has washed up on California shores in recent months.

The gray whale's three-month migratory season from Mexican waters up to Arctic feeding grounds is coming to an end, Johnson said. The males head north first, usually in April, followed by the mothers and their calves in May, Johnson said.

The whales stay close to the coast to avoid killer whales in deeper seas, Johnson said. More than gray whales have washed up in California this year, officials said.

Authorities are hoping a high tide will wash the whale carcass back into the ocean so they don’t have to bury it or get the Coast Guard to tow it out to sea, said Mike Lair, a superintendent with California State Parks.

Gray whales aren’t the only ones busy in Pacific waters this time of year, Johnson said. Humpback whales are also returning to the California coast from breeding in Hawaii, he said.

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