Researchers are trying to decipher what killed a humpback whale that washed up on the beach at Oceano Dunes.
The whale was discovered Friday morning near the center of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, between posts 6 and 7, according to Michelle Berman, director of the Channel Islands Cetacean Research Unit.
The carcass belongs to a “youngish, possibly sub-adult” whale about 30 to 35 feet long, according to Berman.
Based on the condition of the carcass, the whale appears to have floated for two or three days before washing up on shore, Berman said. The large marine mammal’s back is covered with port-mortem shark bites, she said, and “its tongue is really swollen.”
The whale carcass has also developed a strong smell, akin to rancid oil, Berman said.
Although it’s not clear at this point what killed the whale, researchers are looking at a variety of possible causes, ranging from a collision with a boat to disease and infection, she said.
Berman said a team with the Channel Islands Cetacean Research Unit ventured out to the Oceano Dunes on Friday to collect basic data and a few samples, and it plans to return Saturday for better samples.
They should have some time to work, she said, because California State Parks will need to bring in heavy equipment to bury the dead whale.
Based in Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands Cetacean Research Unit researches stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
According to Berman, the group responds to about 35 stranded animals a year. Three or four of those are for whales, she said, adding that humpbacks are especially common in the area.
In fact, the Channel Islands Cetacean Research Unit responded to a dead humpback whale that washed up near the Oceano Dunes in September.