Death on the Coast; Nature at its Stinkiest

Dead Blue Whale & Fetus

What is often lost in all the nature documentaries is that every critter must die eventually. More often than not, said deaths are generally brutal.

One of our favorite beaches is Bean Hollow State Beach south of Half Moon Bay along the northern coast of California. Dog friendly and abundant with wildly different environment ranging from sandy beaches to monumental rocks, to flats full of tide pools with the occasional freshwater pool.

While visiting, it was mentioned that the southern entrance to the state park — we have always stuck to the northern (but will head south because of the awesome beach) — led to an alcove where a dead whale had washed ashore.

This was, of course, far too tempting of a site for Roger to resist, so down the road we headed.

What we found, though, was absolutely monumental. And stinky. Very, very, stinky.

Dead Blue Whale

The creature that had washed up was huge. Hundred+ feet long and 80 feet long, 75 tons, and clearly dead for a while as there were bits and pieces here and there.

And the smell. We made the mistake of parking down wind. Doh!

Roger made it just about 2/3rds of the way to the carcass before heading back to the car.

After we hit the road, we drove upwind and found a path that we could walk upon to overlook the scene without having to smell it.

Regardless, the stench stuck with us on the drive home. Or not. It may have largely been Ruby’s (the Dog’s) wet doggy stench from having waded in a couple of swampy puddles.

Dead Blue Whale Fetus
Blue Whale Guts & Fetus

Sadly, it wasn’t just the one adult whale. On the shore was a whale fetus — I hesitate to say baby since it was so relatively small and pale — that was also dead.

Clearly, this was a mother whale and baby. Given the presence of the floating mass of intestines and the general destruction of the carcass, the whale likely didn’t die naturally. My completely uneducated guess is that it was hit by a cargo ship, an all too common death amongst these magnificent creatures.

I’m pretty sure this is a blue whale.

Sad though such a death is, I can’t help but consider — and explained to Roger — the unbelievable energy source such a carcass is to that particular coastal area. If the carcass were left to decay in that location, it would both take years prior to being fully decayed and those many tons of flesh and bone would likely grossly increase the population of crabs, birds, and other critters.

I’m going to try to contact the park services to find out what they might do– if anything. If the carcass is left to lie (or blown up to accelerate the process), we will revisit the site in the near future to see what the critter density looks like.

Apparently, this is the first blue whale to wash ashore in Northern California in more than 30 years. The Santa Cruz Sentinel has an article about the event.

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7 Responses to “Death on the Coast; Nature at its Stinkiest”

  1. annbb says:

    Wow! That must have been something to see. And you’re right, you don’t see the end of life very often on nature shows.

  2. Andy Lee says:

    Gotta love what Google AdSense came up with.

  3. Mary says:

    I saw this early Sat. morning (10/2) and took pictures. I assumed it had been reported. Biggest whale I have ever seen

  4. Mary says:

    BTW: This whale was not there the week before (9/25)

  5. don delwood says:

    hi bill,
    great story and experience. i like the photos (without having to smell the smells).

    what i find interesting, while you/roger couldn’t stomach the smell and were forced to retreat, your dog, with a 1000x empowered nose, didn’t have any trouble with sniffing around all day.

    go figure.



  6. Jonathan says:

    Minor quibble: “hundreds of feet long” is probably an overstatement. Even the very largest blue whales (which are the largest species) top out at just over 100 feet.

    Interesting notes about the ecosystem created by the aftermath – see also whale fall.

  7. Kaleberg says:

    Some years back we had a dead whale wash up on some land we owned. We were lucky. It washed out to sea, but then washed back up on a neighbor’s land a few lots down the beach. There it stayed, and no one could remove it. Since this was a residential area, though the beach is open to the public, the scent was a serious problem for the locals and beach goers. The county couldn’t move it. It had federal protection. The state couldn’t move it either. People appealed to various branches of the federal government, but the whale was on private land.

    Guess who finally moved the carcass? The Makah. That’s the local Indian tribe that caused such a fuss when they went out whaling some years back. They haven’t been hunting any whales lately, but they still had the right to do so under treaty. They came in and towed the rotting carcass away. Needless to say, they won quite a few brownie points for this.

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