On Sunday, May 15, 2022, a dead beaked whale washed up on the shore of Mendocino County’s Jug Handle State Natural Reserve near Fort Bragg. The deceased whale, known to be elusive and for its ability to dive deeper than any marine mammal, provides a unique opportunity for researchers to understand the rarely seen creature and the environment that could have led to its death.
We spoke with Trey Petrey, the Interpretive Facilities Manager for the Noyo Center for Marine Science, who was on the scene Sunday about the significance of the find.
Petrey told us Noyo Center staff were alerted the beaked whale had come ashore by the Marine Mammal Center, located in Sausalito after a civilian had reported the animal presence directly to their facility.
Sarah Grimes, the Noyo Center for Marine Science’s Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator & Educator, was initially sent to confirm the report and upon confirmation, a small team of volunteers was assembled to investigate the scene.
Grimes, Petrey, and the volunteer team located the beaked whale deceased, with what appeared to be significant blunt trauma to its jaw. Petrey noted that injury does not mean the creature died from that wound. From the initial inspection, Petrey said the whale’s death seemed to have happened recently.
The team set out to take samples of the animal including its tissue, blubber, organs, and its skull. Petrey explained that there are many species of beaked whale and accurate identification would be based on genetic information. Yesterday morning, these samples were sent to the Marine Mammal Center to be analyzed.
Petrey was surprised to see the whale. “It’s a super unusual creature to find. They’re rather elusive,”, he told us. The beaked whale is known for diving deeper than any other sea mammal, Petrey explained, which results in sightings being rare. “To have one wash ashore is very unusual.”
The findings that emerge from investigating sea mammals’ deaths can shed light on the changing oceans and the environments these mammals face. Petrey researchers are provided insight into both the individual animal’s health and the health of the marine ecosystem. He told us information gained could include the animal’s age, range, and how it has been impacted by human life.
Petrey asks that if any members of the public find a dead animal washed up on the shores of Mendocino County, report them to Noyo Center’s Stranding Coordinator, Sarah Grimes at (707)-813-7925. If a live marine mammal in distress is located, contact the Marine Mammal Center at (415)-289-SEAL.