Previously being called a ‘saber-toothed whale,’ the unusual sea creature that turned up on a Los Angeles beach last Wednesday has now been determined to actually be a Stejneger’s beaked whale. While the males of this species do have teeth that resemble sabers, females - the sex of the whale found last week - do not.
This particular Stejneger’s beaked whale was smaller than the average female of her species, measuring 15 feet in length; most females span at least 18 feet. There was nothing ‘small’ about this animal, however – she weighed a whopping 2 tons!
Stejneger’s beaked whales are typically found in icier waters, such as those found in Alaska and Japan. These enormous creatures are theorized by some scientists to be migratory, moving south during parts of the year; it is not known how far they may travel if they do migrate, however, according to mammologist Jim Dines of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
Dines performed the necropsy completed on the whale shortly after it passed away on Wednesday; the beautiful beast was alive, though barely, when it was discovered, but died shortly thereafter. He then performed the autopsy needed to determine vital facts about the whale’s life, in order to find clues about its’ strange death. Jim found nothing notable, however, but for some fresh shark bite wounds - none deadly - and ingested plastic - also non-fatal - in the stomach. Dines took tissue samples to be sent to a lab to determine an absolute cause of death, as there was nothing he found that indicated mortal trauma.
Director of the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, Heather Doyle raced to see the sight on Wednesday when a coworker witnessed the crowd gathered around the whale on the beach. She called the experience a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Other scientists had similar sentiments about the occurrence; Nick Fash, who also works at the aquarium on the Santa Monica Pier, discussed how “lucky” he felt at being able to have been a part of the momentous event. Fash said that Stejneger beaked whales are "almost never seen in the wild," making Wednesday's appearance “incredibly rare.”
Oddly enough, Los Angeles had another rare corpse wash ashore last week, just three days prior to the whale stranded on the beach near Venice and Marina del Rey. The previous Sunday the body of an enormous snake-like fish, called an oarfish, was found on Catalina Island. At a massive 18 feet long, the fish had to be cut into pieces to be stored until scientists can reconstruct the skeletal remains.
The ‘saber-toothed’ whale recently discovered will become part of the large, 4,000-piece marine exhibit on display at Los Angeles’ Natural History Museum at some point in the future.
As far as what is causing these extraordinary occurrences, Dines says, “I think it’s really just a coincidence,” shutting down any speculation about global warming being the culprit. However, he then added, “It’s too early to tell.”
Image courtesy Heal the Bay via Facebook.