Identifying wildlife can sometimes be challenging when you can see the entire animal, but that rarely happens when whale-watching, unless you’re lucky enough to witness a breach. Most of the time, you’re probably looking at less than 5% of the whale at a time as it swims below the surface.
One identifying characteristic is the blowhole. Did you know that toothed whales (e.g. sperm whales) have a single blowhole, while baleen whales (e.g., grey whales) have a double?
In the above image, you can clearly see the double blowhole, which helps to identify this as a grey whale.
Like a bad penny, the dead humpback calf that had washed out to sea returned again to a beach north of Half Moon Bay. And so did the spectators, in droves. News reports, word of mouth, and of course Facebook posts drew more people than the previous day.
While I’m still fact-checking, it seems that the whale did finally get examined by marine scientists, who determined that it was a female, but did not (could not?) determine a cause of death. And it seems that afterwards it was pulled out to sea behind a boat.
RIP, young one.
I sincerely hope that many of the folks for whom this whale-viewing was a first will be inspired to go whale watching on a boat. Those of you who have gotten close to whales on the open ocean know what I mean. It’s there that you can appreciate how big they are, and how quickly yet elegantly they can move through the water.
May all your whale sightings be live ones!
A dead humpback whale calf washed up on the beach just north of Half Moon Bay, California a couple of days ago. I was driving up Highway 1 at dusk yesterday evening when I spotted a group of about fifteen people clustered on the side of the highway, facing the ocean and holding their cell phones out in front of them. Since it was a foggy evening and already getting dark, I figured they were photographing the whale. I stopped to have a look as well as to photograph the whale myself, since this is–thank goodness!–not an every day occurence. Not since an adult humpback named Humphrey famously entered the San Francisco Bay (in 1985 and again in 1990) has a whale–living or dead–gotten this much attention in the Bay Area.
I had very mixed feelings observing the crowd of onlookers, who were posing their children for photo ops in front of the unfortunate whale. On one hand, it was but a decaying corpse–still a strange photo setting for children, in my opinion–and on the other it was the remains of a magnificent ocean creature that died well before its time. I couldn’t help feeling that many people’s actions were downright disrespectful.
I’m willing to bet that very few people in that crowd realized that they were standing near the site of a whaling station that processed hundreds or thousands of whales in the 1800’s. Whaling is not an activity most people associate with eco-conscious California.
In this image, I chose to not include the spectators, but I deliberately lined up the whale with Pillar Point in the background to give the image a sense of place.
The tide came in over night and the whale carcass washed back out to sea. This morning it was gone.