A dead beluga whale has washed up on a beach in Baja California Sur, Mexico, just months after an extremely rare sighting off the coast of San Diego.
Images of the beluga were shared to Facebook by Mario’s Tours, a whale watching tour operator. “Yes, it’s sad, the journey of this arctic beluga that travels thousands of miles and ends in Laguna Ojo de Hiere,” the company wrote in a post. “Still an extraordinary story. Many questions are in the air.”
It was found on the shores of the Ojo de Liebre Lagoon, around 400 miles from San Diego. The cause of death is unclear. The images do not show any sign of injuries and, according to Robert Brownell, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the whale appears healthy and well nourished.
Brownell told The Orange County Register that an autopsy of the whale would help scientists find out which population of beluga whales it came from.
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Belugas are generally found in the Arctic Ocean, with populations around Alaska, Russia, Canada and Greenland. In July, however, one was spotted off the coast of California. Domenic Biagini, whale-watching tour captain and wildlife photographer, filmed the creature swimming off the coast of San Diego. According to National Geographic, this was the furthest south the species had ever been officially recorded, having potentially traveled 2,500 miles from the nearest known beluga population—the Cook Inlet in Southcentral Alaska.
It’s appearance so far south perplexed scientists. Kristin Laidre, from the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center, told National Geographic that where the whale came from “is anybody’s guess.”
“Belugas are gregarious, they’re usually together in groups. To have one individual so far away from the core range of the beluga—I can’t even wager a guess why it swam to California.” She said the beluga may have been “extra curious” and decided to go on a road trip, or that it was “sick and disorientated.”
Brownell said he believes the beluga washed up Mexico is the same one spotted in July and that it most likely came from the Cook Inlet population. “It was such an unusual condition to have had it here in the first place,” he told The Orange County Register. He said it most likely died after getting entangled on fishing gear.
Mario’s Tours said this is the southernmost stranding ever documented for beluga whales and that it would have been very difficult for the animal to survive at these latitudes.
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