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Seldom Seen Beaked Whale Washes Up on Beach

Marine life: Scientists are hoping to learn more about the species. It's been years since one has been recovered in the Los Angeles area.

June 22, 2002|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The discovery of a dead Cuvier's beaked whale Friday morning near the Manhattan Beach Pier stoked the curiosity of scientists, who hope to learn more about a rarely seen animal.

The 18-foot-long male whale, probably in its puberty, was found on shore by lifeguards about 7 a.m., said John Heyning, deputy director of research and collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The species, discovered in 1823 by a French anatomist, looks like a large, dark slate-gray dolphin, he said. They can grow to 40 feet and typically dive deep and far offshore.

The last known Cuvier's whale to wash up in the Los Angeles area was found in Marina del Rey in 1988. Like the most recent find, that whale was taken to a museum warehouse in Vernon for research.

"While it's sad, there's a benefit in that you learn so much about these whales," Heyning said. "There's a natural curiosity, but these discoveries are important later on issues of management and human impact."

Most beached Cuvier's whales are either newborns or adults, Heyning said. So the discovery of a pubescent whale could be helpful in gathering information on the animals at that stage of life, he said.

Scientists will try to determine if domoic acid poisoning, which has killed 80 dolphins and hundreds of sea lions in recent months, may have killed the whale, Heyning said.

Heyning said he will also try to find out if the whale may have died as a result of noise pollution. A federal study in December found that Navy sonar tests were what probably caused 16 whales--including five Cuvier's beaked whales--to beach themselves in the Bahamas in 2000.

High levels of sound can annoy or displace whales, or cause varying degrees of deafness or even death through hemorrhaging, Heyning said.

"People are putting a lot more sound in the water and a lot of people are trying to find out what impact that has in terms of noise pollution," he said. The beached whale could yield clues in that controversy, he said.

Before the whale was trucked away from the beach, Heyning schooled some curious children nearby about the discovery.

"They were very excited, asking lots of questions. When kids see something so impressive, it can leave a lasting impression," he said.

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