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Dead whale calf washes up on Sunset Beach

April 5, 2009 | 12:58 pm


A dead gray whale calf washed up today in shallow waters just off Sunset Beach in Orange County.

The calf, roughly 21 feet long, was discovered in the surf near 19th Street and Pacific Coast Highway, said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a marine biologist who directs an annual census of the cetaceans as they pass the Palos Verdes Peninsula on their northern and southern migrations.

Other marine biologists, in initial observations, judged the male calf to be about 3 months old and believed that he had been dead for about 10 days, Schulman-Janiger said. The calf apparently was struck by a ship’s propeller, leaving three deep, parallel lacerations in his side, but further medical tests were needed to determine if the injuries occurred before or after the whale died, she said.

Gray whales migratWhale1e down the California coast each year in the winter months to the lagoons off the Baja Peninsula, where mother whales nurse their calves.The whales head north again in the spring, with mothers and calves lagging several weeks behind grown males.

Census takers had seen the first of the calves and mothers in recent days.Around five to eight of the whales wash up on the California coast each year.

Gray whales are recovering from a few years of serious hardship that occurred about a decade ago, when food became scarce and nearly one of every three members of the species died. Marine biologists estimate the current population as 21,000.

-- Joel Rubin

Photos: At top, Orange County lifeguards tie a rope to the calf in preparation to tow the deceased mammal out to sea. At bottom, the calf -- believed to have been hit by a ship -- appeared to have been dead for about a week. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times