Officials in Huntington Beach made the call to close a two mile stretch of coastline after beachgoers spotted a whale suffering from what appeared to be bite marks that had washed ashore.
The approximately 400 pound, 7.5 feet long pygmy sperm whale was found at around 3:45 p.m. near Tower 22 in Sunset Beach. The whale, which was still alive, was in clear distress.
When experts from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, including Dr. Alissa Deming, responded to the area and examined the pygmy sperm whale, one of the bites appeared to be from a shark.
“When we started assessing the animal, it was clear that it had what appeared to be a fresh bite wound potentially from a shark on the side of its face,” Deming told KTLA’s Chip Yost.
That information combined with later reports that people may have seen the shark attack the whale prior to it washing ashore led to the temporary closure of a mile stretch on either side of Sunset Beach.
Further examination of the pygmy sperm whale revealed that the fresh shark bite was not the animal’s biggest problem.
“That was the secondary reason for stranding,” Deming explained. “We think the animal was sick and struggling in the surf and probably bleeding a little bit from some other wounds it had on it and that probably attracted a shark into the area.”
The marine mammal expert believes the whale was already in the process of dying when the shark attacked. The whale was later euthanized and is now being examined to see if anything can be learned from its death.
“So, although it’s unfortunate that this animal passed away and we had to humanely euthanize it, we’re still going to learn a lot from this animal and it’s going to take some messages out from the ocean and bring them to our computers to help better understand the kinds of things that are impacting the health of these deep diving marine mammals.
The beach closure, which runs from about the community of Surfside all the way down to Warner Avenue, will be closed for another 24 hours to beachgoers.