‘This one was in trouble’: Gray whale spotted near shore of Dockweiler Beach dies hours later

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A gray whale that was seen along the shoreline of Dockweiler Beach on Wednesday afternoon was pronounced deceased hours later.

The stranded whale was spotted just before 4 p.m., just south of Marina Del Rey, on the northern of end of Dockweiler Beach. Authorities announced the whale was deceased hours later, just after 7:30 p.m.

It was about 25 feet long, according to Pono Barnes, an ocean lifeguard specialist for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. A whale of that size and length usually weighs about 2,000 pounds, he said, but this particular one was “very malnourished” and much smaller.

The whale had beached itself, Barnes said, which is the phenomenon also known as cetacean stranding when dolphins and whales strand themselves on beaches. Though it’s not uncommon to see whales in L.A. County, any whale stranded on the beach is concerning, he added.

Marine Animal Rescue was working with the county fire department and its lifeguard division to formulate a plan to assess the animal and decide what to do.

“We’ve been directed by National Marine Fisheries to leave the animal in place for a title cycle and hope that it will return to deeper water on its own,” Barnes said Wednesday. “We were advised to not attempt to tow the animal back out to sea, as it would most likely result in critical injury to the animal.”

Lifeguard units and Marine Animal Rescue personnel planned to remain at the scene with the whale throughout the evening, and monitor the situation in hopes that the animal would return to deeper water on its own. But since the whale was determined to be dead hours later, they instead planned to coordinate the removal of the animal Thursday morning.

“The whale looks really skinny, doesn’t look in good shape at all,” Peter Wallerstein, president of Marine Animal Rescue, said before the whale was pronounced deceased. “But the federal government doesn’t want us to do anything with it. We have to wait see what happens to it. Our hands are tied.”

He estimated that the whale was likely one or two years old.

“This is during the migration of the whales going back north,” Wallerstein said. “So we got a lot of young whales at the surfline. They like shallow water so they come up inside of the surfline. They feed off the bottom. So they’re doing what comes natural. But this one was in trouble.”

Gray whales have been continuing to wash up on Pacific Coast beaches, signifying an unusual mortality event, experts say. From the start of 2019 to January 2021, an estimated 386 gray whales were found stranded on the coast from Mexico to Canada, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sky5 was overhead as beachgoers and local residents gathered near the shoreline earlier Wednesday to get a glimpse of the whale at Dockweiler Beach.

“We heard helicopters, found out that there was a beached whale and we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see it,” Tracy Becker, who lives nearby, said. “They’re such amazing creatures and you don’t often get a chance to see them close up. It’s heartbreaking that it’s in distress.”

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