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Two fin whales found dead under hull of Australian ship at Naval Base San Diego

Two fin whales found dead under hull of Australian ship at Naval Base San Diego
Posted at 2:37 PM, May 12, 2021

SAN DIEGO — Two dead fin whales became dislodged from the hull of an Australian Navy ship as it pulled into Naval Base San Diego on Saturday.

Video on the San Diego Web Cam Facebook page shows the HMAS Sydney, an Australian destroyer, making its way into San Diego Bay on Saturday morning. The ship has been in the area conducting joint exercises with the U.S. Navy since early April.

At around 9:45 a.m. local time on Saturday, as the ship was pulling into a pier at Naval Base San Diego, a sobering sight emerged.

According to U.S. Navy spokesperson, the carcasses of two fin whales became dislodged from the hull and surfaced.

One was 65 feet long. The other was about 25 feet.

“It's sad, but it’s also not surprising,” said John Calambokidis, research biologist at the Cascadia Research Collective in Washington.

Calambokidis has been studying whales and ship strikes for several decades.

While he's never heard of two whales being found at the same time, he says it's not uncommon for the strikes to be first discovered when a ship slows down. That's because of the size and speed of large ships.

“In the vast majority of cases I”m familiar with, the ship is unaware of having struck the whale,” Calambokidis said.

Calambokidis says the collisions could have take place anywhere — from close to shore or far out at sea.

“While it possible could be separate incidents, it also possible this is a mother and calf from the size distribution,” Calambokidis said.

Calombikidis says the fin whale is vulnerable to ship strikes because of its large size. It also breathes, rests and sometimes feeds near the surface.

He says along the West Coast, there are a few documented strikes of fin whales every year, but the actual number is closer to 50.

On Tuesday afternoon, the larger of the two whales was towed out to sea to be sunk.

In a statement, the U.S. Navy said that it "takes marine mammal safety seriously and is disheartened this incident occurred.”

According to the U.S. Navy and NOAA Fisheries, a joint review into the incident will be conducted between U.S. and Australian authorities.

Tissue samples have been collected and a necropsy may be done on the smaller whale.

Calambokidis says fin whales are found off San Diego’s coast year round. May is considered an intense feeding time for the animals.

This story was originally published by Michael Chen on Scripps station KGTV in San Diego.