By Muhammad Atef | April 9, 2021

4 gray whales found dead in Bay Area this week

Four dead gray whales have washed ashore in the Bay Area in the past week, prompting concern among scientists about the length and intensity of a die-off of the giant mammals that is now in its third year.

The first whale carcass landed at San Francisco’s Crissy Field on March 31. Another was found in the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Moss Beach on Saturday. A third found floating in the bay was towed to Angel Island Wednesday, where staff from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito were to perform a necropsy Thursday morning when they got a call that a fourth had washed up on Muir Beach.

Scientists have not determined for certain the cause of death for any of the animals, but it’s part of a pattern seen before in a similar die-off in 1999 and 2000. This one has lasted three years so far. The current die-off also coincides with a recent pattern where gray whales have been spending unusually long period in San Francisco Bay on their migration route from breeding grounds in Mexico to their feeding grounds in Alaska.

“Normally, in a regular year you’d see one or two gray whales that would poke into the bay for a little bit and then they would leave in a matter of hours,” said Bill Keener, research associate at the Marine Mammal Center. “That all changed in 2019, when we saw multiple gray whales — 10 to 15 — coming in and using San Francisco Bay as a migratory stop or rest stop.” Some stayed for a whole month.

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