Dead Humpback Whale Discovered in Pacifica Shows Signs of Blunt Force Trauma Consistent With Being Hit by Passing Ship

A dead humpback whale that washed ashore on a Pacifica beach may have been struck by a passing ship, according to scientists.

The carcass was reported at about 6:30 a.m. Sunday on the 400 block of Esplanade Drive, commonly referred to as Pacific Manor Beach, Interim Police Chief Daniel Steidle said in a statement.

Scientists from the Marine Headlands-based Marine Mammal Center identified the 38-foot mammal as a juvenile male humpback whale.

Moe Flannery of the California Academy of Sciences told NBC Bay Area that scientists who performed a partial necropsy, starting at 4 p.m. Sunday, stumbled upon "hemorrhaging" muscles and "disarticulated" bones.

A statement by the Marine Mammal Center added that the damage was located on the whale's left side, below its pectoral flipper.

"This type of trauma is consistent with blunt force trauma and may be associated with a vessel collision but scientists are not making a final determination until more experts can look at the information obtained by the necropsy team," the statement continued.

The dead whale is the third to wash ashore in Pacifica since April. A 48-foot male sperm whale was discovered on April 14 and a 42-foot adult female humpback was found on May 5.

Necropsies on both those whales were inconclusive, though scientists found evidence the other humpback also died from injuries suffered in a ship strike, according to the Marine Mammal Center.

In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration advised ships moving through shipping lanes near the Bay Area to slow down to avoid striking endangered blue, humpback and fin whales that had been spotted foraging in the area, according to the center.

"By examining marine mammals that wash up on our shores, we are able to learn more about how we can prevent future deaths," Dr. Shawn Johnson, Director of Veterinary Science at the Marine Mammal Center, said in the statement. "Even in the case of an animal that is starting to decompose, we may be able to document human impacts such as ship strikes that could help influence changes in shipping lanes."

Meanwhile, Pacifica resident Tera Killip described feeling "really sad" after seeing the carcass, but hoped it would be taken away quickly because a foul odor has wafted into her nearby house.  

According to Steidle, city officials are exploring ways to "expeditiously" remove the whale from the beach. 

NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith contributed to this report.

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