The carcass of a 40-foot whale that washed up at San Diego’s Point Loma Cove earlier this week is set to be hauled away from the rocky shoreline by authorities Wednesday and disposed of in the ocean.
According to Lee Swanson of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, the towing attempt is expected to begin around 4 p.m. and will be spearheaded by The Marine Conservation Science Institute (MCSI) and San Diego lifeguards.
Swanson said the plan will involve lifeguards towing the whale about a half-mile offshore, and then transferring the tow to a MCSI boat waiting to take the reins. The boat will then take the carcass out to sea to properly dispose of the whale, a process that could take several days. It is unclear if MCSI members will sink the whale or leave it to float at sea.
The MCSI has a permit to remove and dispose of marine mammals, Swanson said.
The whale was first spotted near the mouth of the San Diego Bay on Saturday, according to Susan Chivers, a research fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Officials kept an eye on the dead animal as it moved closer to shore. By late Sunday, tides pushed it onto Point Loma, not far from the wastewater treatment plant.
An NOAA crew tried to reach the whale Monday morning, but the low tide posed challenges and the crew was unable to get to it because it was still floating. At that point, researchers weren’t sure what type of whale it was because its body was too bloated.
Removing the whale is quite the task. In 2011, scientists were faced with a similar dilemma when a 67-foot fin whale was beached in almost the same location.
In that situation, lifeguards towed the animal to Fiesta Island, where scientists performed a necropsy. Crews then took it out to sea and sank it to create what’s called a “whale fall.” That allowed scientists to watch the carcass decompose and see what kind of deep-sea ecosystem grew around it.
However, Chivers said whale falls are expensive and logistically challenging, so it’s unlikely this new whale will be used for such research.