Last week, a decomposing gray whale washed up on Pacifica State Beach. A week earlier, beachgoers were shocked by a similar sight at Half Moon Bay’s Francis State Beach. There have now been a dozen dead whales on Bay Area beaches so far this year. Unfortunately, that may be just the tip of the melting iceberg.

There is little that makes an ocean lover sadder than the sight of a dead whale. The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito said tissue samples revealed the whale that made an untimely visit to Pacifica was a 47-foot male. It’s hard

to fathom the majesty of an animal that large and that graceful, and it’s a tragedy when one dies before its time. We’ve seen a lot of such unexplainable tragedy of late. Scientists report that in addition to the dozen that have washed up on area beaches, hundreds more gray whales have turned up dead on the West Coast of North America since 2019.

We know that ships are sometimes to blame. This time of year, the whale migration mixes with regular cargo ship traffic and that is a battle that not even the largest mammals on earth can win.

Sometimes, the problem is fishing nets that entangle whales and essentially strangle them. For years, the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network has reported as many as 50 dead or dying whales each year that ran into derelict fishing gear in the Pacific Ocean. Here, we’re happy to report some progress. After the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted an uptick in entanglements due to the commercial Dungeness crab fishing industry, it began working closely with fishermen to improve gear and reduce entanglements. Still, the International Whaling Commission reports that a shocking 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die from entanglements across the world’s oceans every year.

Then there is starvation. Scientists have reported hundreds of dead and emaciated gray whales along the regular West Coast migration route in recent years. They think there are simply fewer amphipods, the primary prey species, in the main feeding grounds of the Bering Sea. That is caused by warming Arctic waters, which is caused by … us.

In better years, the Marine Mammal Center told the Los Angeles Times they would see only two or three dead whales a year. Is five to 10 times that number the new normal? And, if so, what does that mean for the population as a whole? Will the annual whale migration become a memory?

We desperately hope not. We are thankful for those who are doing what they can, including fishermen who have taken steps to assure the crabbing industry is no longer leaving gear where it can kill. Let’s hope this and other innovative ideas emerge to stem a tragic tide.

— Clay Lambert

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(2) comments

KookSkywalker

All the planet's perceived problems are caused by...us. Humanity brings heartache, disease, and death to itself under the guise that we're making things better. The more of...us...there are, the more of...us...will suffer our fate. It's okay though! These are issues that humanity must face alone. The planet will do just fine again once there are no more...us.

uffish thought

Disagree. Humans won't suffer a disastrous fate alone: we've been inflicting our deadly stupidity on other species by the bucket load.

Unfortunately or not, humans have learned to overcome normal natural limits, whereby too many of one species usually results in a fairly swift correction by starvation or disease.

It's too bad that by the time the world's peoples control our harmful breeding, eating, and migration habits, the world's most beautiful creatures will have already been annihilated with general collapse following close behind.

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