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Remains of humpback whale wash ashore in San Pedro

May 8, 2011 |  6:00 pm

A humpback whale with head and pectoral fins missing at White Point in San Pedro.

The mutilated carcass of a large humpback whale was found washed ashore at White Point in San Pedro. Experts said Sunday the whale was probably struck by a ship’s propeller.

A staff member of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium notified authorities Sunday after finding the whale on the rocks at the southern end of Western Avenue.

The whale is believed to have been dead for three to five days, said Diane Alps, a program coordinator at the aquarium who raced to the spot after the find was reported.

The carcass was first spotted on the rocky outcropping called Fountain Reef about 4:30 p.m. Saturday after lifeguards were alerted to its presence by a large flock of seagulls that hovered above, said Capt. Maria Bird, a Los Angeles County lifeguard who works in the area.

The spot is not easily reachable, but several beachgoers dropped by the lifeguard station Sunday to ask about the whale, Bird said.

The top third of the whale’s body was missing, but Alps and other experts identified it by its species' distinctive tail and dorsal fin. It was believed to be a full-grown male and probably measured 50 feet.

The whale had a large contusion and pooling of blood on its back just forward of the dorsal fin, indicating that it had probably been hit by a large ship and was swept into the propellers, Alps said.

It is not unusual to see humpbacks off the coast of Southern California at this time of the year. They linger around Santa Catalina Island and frequently come close to the main shoreline in a pit stop before heading north to feeding grounds in the Santa Barbara Channel and Monterey Bay.

The local feeding areas, however, are in the path of ships making their way to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“A large 20-foot propeller can easily do a lot of damage to a whale, and in this case did remove the entire head,” said Alps, who is president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cetacean Society. “It was likely a very large cargo ship or other large vessel that was making its way south to the port.”

A representative of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County took tissue samples that will confirm the sex and age of the whale and test for toxins, Alps said. The incident will also be reported to the Large Whale Ship Strike Database, which is compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Bird said the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors will determine how to dispose of the carcass.


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Photo: A humpback whale with head and pectoral fins missing at White Point in San Pedro. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times