Mystery behind beaked whale death with unusual wounds in California

The body of a rare type of beaked whale recently washed ashore on a California beach, with mysterious injuries to its head and scratch marks all over its body. Experts still don’t know what caused the injuries, how the whale died or what species it belongs to.

The remains of the beaked whale, which is about 4.9m long, were found on the 15th on a beach in Jug Handle State Natural Reserve. A team from the Center for Marine Science (CAS) in Noyo collected the body with the help of researchers at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

The group collected samples of the whale’s blubber, organs and skull, and sent them to be analyzed in the National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank in South Carolina.

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Image: Noyo Marine Science Center

Little is known about these mysterious whales, which belong to the family of Ziphiidae. Scientists believe there are about two dozen species, but only a few of them have been studied in depth.

However, they do know that the beaked whale, by and large, is able to “dive deeper than any other marine mammal,” according to a post from the Noyo Center, and that they can remain submerged for more than three hours.

This incredible diving skill is one of the main reasons scientists know so little about the beaked whale. “They are not seen very often, whether alive or dead,” said Moe Flannery, senior manager of marine bird and mammal collections at CAS.

The beaked whale had strange injuries

Staff at the center observed that the whale’s beak had unusual wounds around it, although they could not say exactly what caused them.

“There appears to be some sort of trauma near the jaw, but until they take a closer look at the skull itself, it’s hard to say what caused it,” said Trey Petrey, a facility manager at the center, who helped remove the whale from the site. beach.

A possible cause for the injuries would be collisions with vehicles. The beaked whale, as well as other cetaceans (dolphins and whales), are among the marine animals most at risk of being hit by boats, as they use sound to navigate, and the noise pollution from boats can disorient them, according to a study published in 2020 in Frontiers in Marine Science.

The beaked whale’s body was also scarred by scratches on its body and face. However, most of these scratches were likely caused by conflicts with other beaked whales over time.

Most of them are toothless, with the exception of a large pair of fang-like teeth in the lower jaw; these teeth are often unique to males, who use them to fight rivals, said Sascha Hooker, a marine mammal biologist at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, not involved in the rescue.

She adds that the injuries may have been caused by clashes with other whales, or after previous collisions with vessels.

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Whale louse, a parasite that sticks to the cetacean’s skin. Image: Noyo Marine Science Center

Another detail in the beaked whale carcass was the “lice” on its skin. Whale lice are parasitic shrimp that attach themselves to the skin of cetaceans and spend their entire lives trapped in the skin of a single individual, where they filter microbes from the water and sometimes nibble on the skin of the host.

A study published in 2018 in Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology pointed out that these whale lice can be analyzed as a way of tracking whale migration patterns. Whether this can be done for beached beaked whales remains to be seen, but researchers believe they will be able to learn a lot about this type of whale in general after the event.

About Raju Singh

Raju has an exquisite taste. For him, video games are more than entertainment and he likes to discuss forms and art.

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