Good morning and greetings, baseball playoff fans. Well, we had a few warm days last week, unlike the summer, which was colder than the stares I got when I wore my Malcolm X hat to a Tea Party civil rights march. I can count on one gloved hand the number of mornings recently where I’ve walked on the cliff in a short sleeve shirt or tube top, so I’m savoring the pleasant weather, or what my Native American ancestors called Indian Summer.
So it was back on September 6 that I learned a dead blue whale had washed ashore up at Bean Hollow State Beach. Well, you know how I feel about harpoons, so before you could say “there she blows,” I grabbed my camera and my Moby Dick walkie talkie and headed north up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Twenty-seven minutes later I arrived at Bean Hollow, which is three miles south of Pescadero by the way the crow flies, which is always coach. As I headed towards the inlet where this fallen monster lay, I detected a scent in the air. It was not the smell of fresh baked brownies or my Old Spice, and even for an Aqua Velva man like myself this was something ripe and special. I had forgotten to pack my nose plugs, but fortunately had brought along a bag of mini marshmallows just in case the rangers ended up making smores, so they did the nasal trick.
It was an eerie and truly unbelievable sight. In the first image you see exactly where the whale came ashore with Bean Hollow Beach in the background. If you look in the top right of the second shot, you’ll see where the baby was lying. Shot number three shows you the incredible color and beauty of the eight-month old who never made it into the sea. So sad and surreal.
The next two shots show you the immense size of this marine mammal. Gigantic doesn’t begin to describe this magnificent sea creature. 80 feet long and 75 tons! It was larger than “The Event” on NBC, simply bigger than any creature you can imagine. And the fact that it cruises by our front yard here on Monterey Bay just adds to the greatness and tragedy of this story.
So with a thank you and assist from writers Tovin Lapan and Kimberly White of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, let’s take a closer look at what I consider to be a once in a lifetime viewing experience. Like seeing me windmill dunk off a fast break.
As it turns out, this fully-grown female apparently died of blunt-force trauma. According to an official with the California Academy of Sciences, it likely died after being hit by a large ship . Scientists found hemorrhaging on its belly and at least three fractured vertebrae, according to Academy spokesman and gymnast Andrew Ng.
“There’s no forensic evidence on the whale that could lead us to the identity of the boat,” he said. “However, given the size of the whale, it’s most probably a large, industrial ship.” I guess that rules out the Good Ship Lollipop.
The whale was pregnant when it died, and its 8-month-old male calf likely came out of its mother’s belly post-mortem. Unlike myself, it was not a breached birth. Guy Oliver, a research fellow and and first baseman at Long Marine Lab, measured the fetus at 17 feet.
“How do you describe something that’s dead but so incredibly beautiful?” Oliver mused. “Massive, beautiful, a little ripe to the nose. The fetus was like a ghost. Almost pure white, not like a beluga, but with a little bit of yellow on the dorsal fin.
“I think perhaps what happened was in the collision, the fetus was pushed slightly downward, posterior,” he continued. “And as there was gas buildup in the intestines and in the stomach, the fetus was literally expelled and drifted slightly away from the female.”
Oliver said there are a number of reasons why the whale may have been unaware of the ship. This included lack of sleep, a cognitive deficiency possibly caused by something it ate like a bad shrimp cocktail, or simply because it was traveling through a layer of water where the sound of a passing ship may not have been as noticeable. In other words, she did not hear that train a comin’.
Dave Casper, a veterinarian at the Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz and not the former Raider tight end, said the mother likely was a North Pacific blue whale and was probably on her way to the Sea of Cortez to give birth to the calf in just a couple of months. Scientists took muscle and bone samples from the fetus and conducted a visual inspection, but there was no match in the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted whale list.
Unlike their friends the grays, blue whales don’t follow specific migratory routes. Local whale watchers have seen more blue whales in Monterey Bay over the past several months than they’ve seen in the past seven years. Observers believe that’s largely because blue whales feed almost exclusively on krill, and ocean upwellings have been bringing up nutrient-rich waters from the depths. Well, in the words of BB King, for this magnficent creature, the krill is gone.
The beaching of the blue whale was also unique, since the species generally migrates south toward warmer climates this time of year. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen a blue whale wash in along our coastline in 30 years, so it’s very rare,” said State Park Ranger Frank Balthis. “And what really is incredible is there’s the fetus of a calf. It’s one of the first times that’s ever been seen.”
It’s been more than three decades since the a blue whale landed on a local beach. The skeleton of that 87-foot whale, which washed up on Fiddlers Cove near Pescadero in 1979, is on display at the Long Marine Lab along with some of my greeting cards.
This whale most likely will not be honored in same way, as it is a laborious process to prepare the bones, and it took seven years for the first whale skeleton to be completed, or a little bit less time that I took for me to receive my undergraduate degree from UCSC in molecular biology, er sociology.
Scientists believe the roughly 3,000 California blue whales spend from June to October feeding in California. Then it’s five or six months in Mexico and Costa Rica, where they can enjoy, much like yours truly, the warmer water and mating rituals. They then head back up the coast for massage and spa treatments. Females give birth to a single calf every two to three years, and the gestation period is 10-11 months. This just make the situation even sadder as they’re not popping out babies like the Octamom.
There have been two other blue whale ship strikes this year. One was hit in Monterey Bay over the summer and was not believed to have been injured. The body of a 70-foot blue whale that washed up on San Miguel Island off Southern California was determined to have been struck by a ship. Which brings to mind the words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus of Hill Street Blues, “hey, let’s be careful out there.”
Blue whales are the largest animals known to exist. They can grow to 110 feet and weigh up to 180 tons. Now that’s a big fish. “It’s heart is probably the size and weight of a Volkswagen Beetle,” Oliver said. And interestingly enough, even with a tongue the size of a Buick, it can’t swallow anything larger than a beach ball.
So no one is going to remove the bodies because the whale itself is just too damn big, so the plan is to let nature take its course. Animals in the water will eventually break down the carcasses, even though that will take several months. Rangers say that they don’t expect it to be a problem because the part of the beach where the whale is isn’t very popular and that smell could knock over a tractor trailer.
Let’s bring in a little late night humor. “Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown’s campaign is in trouble for allegedly calling her opponent Meg Whitman a ‘whore.’ This after his staff spent the weekend coming up with their new campaign slogan: ‘Just say ho.’ “Jerry Brown has apologized to Meg Whitman after a campaign aide called her a whore. Let me tell you, that is totally out of line. Politicians don’t become whores until after they’re elected. “Meg Whitman has released a new TV ad in both Mandarin and Cantonese. This is part of her effort to reach out to the Asian community. That’s how California works, where a white woman from back East, trying to replace an Austrian governor, runs an ad in Chinese to explain to people why she hired a Mexican maid.” –Jay Leno
“Donald Trump is running for president. He’s not the kind of guy that would stage something like this for publicity. I know it’s official because today, Trump threw his hair into the ring.” –David Letterman “Wouldn’t that be exciting? We haven’t had a president who wore a powdered wig since John Quincy Adams.” –Jay Leno “Trump refers to the White House as a ’200-year-old tear-down.’” –David Letterman
“Obama is going to tour India and Asia. I guess he wants to check up on American jobs. It’s being reported that the economy lost 95,000 jobs in September. And that’s just people leaving the White House.” –Jay Leno “People are saying that everything is Obama’s fault – he hasn’t dug us out of Bush’s recession and two wars fast enough. That’s the problem. Somebody threw a book at President Obama. If you’re trying to scare a president by throwing a book at him, you’re one president too late.” –David Letterman
So that’s a look at one of this planet’s endangered creatures. And believe me, I know what it’s like to be hunted for blubber. So baseball lovers, enjoy the great pitching matchups and we’ll catch you deep in the whole at shortstop. Aloha, mahalo and later, Cody Ross fans.