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Fin Whale Found Dead on Washington Beach, Likely Hit by Ship

Jun 14, 2013 11:58 AM EDT

Beachgoers received a shock on when they stumbled upon a 68-foot long fin whale lying dead in the sand at a beach located in Ocean Shores, Wash.

Discovered Thursday morning, the whale showed signs of blunt force trauma near the head, probably due to being struck by a boat, biologists from Cascadia Research and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a press release after examination.

Moderately decomposed and without most of its skin, researchers determined it had likely been dead a week or more before washing ashore.

Furthermore, the whale was deemed to have been in fairly good health prior to death with a healthy oily blubber layer and evidence of having fed recently based on stomach contents.

The death marks the eleventh fin whale found stranded in Washington since 2002, and the second this year, the previous one occurring in April. In nine of these cases, collisions with a ship were believed to be the cause.

Ship strikes, as they’re called, are a growing concern for biologists in regards to several west coast species of whales, particularly blue and fin whales: in all, scientists suspect that the 11 documented cases represent a tenth or less of the true number.

For this reason, Cascadia Research began working to better understand potential solutions to the issue after at least five blue whales were killed as a result of ship strikes in the southern California area in 2007.

Still underway, the study includes determining how animals are distributed in relation to shipping routes, examining the behavior of blue whales in shipping lanes, using GPS tags to provide detailed movement patterns the whales in and around the shipping lanes and monitoring behavior of whales as ships approach.

News of the fin whale discovery comes just days after a mother pygmy sperm whale and her calf were found on a beach in Jupiter, Fla. Though still alive when first discovered, volunteers and officials were unable to save the mother, prompting them to euthanize the calf too young to survive on its own. The reason for their beaching remains unclear.

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