A dead whale washed up on a Point Reyes National Seashore beach this week is the latest of many reported in Northern California this spring, but experts said Wednesday that the influx is probably caused more by strong winds and a large whale population in the area than by any increase in mortality.
The badly decomposed whale, which appears to be a juvenile gray whale, washed up around two miles south of the South Beach parking lot at Point Reyes on Tuesday, according to park spokesman John Dell'Osso.
Biologists have collected samples from the whale and transferred them to the California Academy of Sciences for analysis, Dell'Osso said.
Because it is located in a remote area, he said it is unlikely officials will move or bury the body.
The dead whale is the latest of a number that have washed ashore along the California coast, including another juvenile gray whale found Sunday on Portuguese Beach in Sonoma County.
About a dozen dead whales have been reported in an area extending roughly from Santa Cruz to Mendocino County since April, according to Mary Jane Schramm, a spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
Others have probably gone unreported on more remote beaches, Schramm said.
While the number is unusually high, Schramm said it mostly reflects unusually strong onshore winds coming in from the Pacific, pushing dead whales ashore.
"Ordinarily these deaths would occur at sea and we would probably be none the wiser," she said, noting that due to the spring migration "we simply have an abundance of whales right now for all species."
The whales that have been found have come from several different species and have had different causes of death, including killer whale attacks and ship strikes, Schramm said.
The whale deaths also do not appear to be connected to the large number of malnourished and dead sea lions and seals that have washed ashore this year, since the whales generally do not compete for the same food sources, Schramm said.
While California sea lions remain at healthy numbers overall, scientists are concerned about the impact of the die-off on the endangered Guadalupe fur seal.
She noted that there is some concern humpback whales might be feeding closer to shipping lanes than usual and even moving into the San Francisco Bay because of an unusual number of mackerel in the area.