dead whale
A beached juvenile gray whale died on the shoreline at Dockweiler State Beach, on Wednesday, March 17, as a rescue team had grappled with how to save the mammal.

The whale had washed up on shore about 4 p.m. Officials believed the whale was sick, also noting how thin it appeared. Two hours later, the animal died.

Since it washed up on shore, likelihood of survival for the whale, which was about 25 feet to 30 feet long, had been slim, Justin Viezbicke, California stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said late Wednesday afternoon prior to its death.

"At this point, there's not much we can do," he said.

The NOAA response team couldn't pull the animal out to sea for fear of hurting the creature or causing even more damage.

"It can be super dangerous," Viezbicke said. "We don't try and pull a live whale."

So they were forced to wait until high tide in the middle of the night to see if the whale would get help from the sea.

However, the whale did not live long enough to receive the tidal assistance.

"Unfortunately at this point, it really is how much energy and will does this whale have," Viezbicke said. "They are super powerful animals. When they drift ashore, something is wrong with it."

For the past two years, gray whales have been washing up dead at a higher-than-normal rate from Mexico to Alaska, prompting concern by NOAA and other researchers. An "Unusual Mortality Event" has been declared because of all the deaths recorded.

This year seemed like it was going to be an improvement, with only one other whale washing ashore since Jan. 1, a dead whale in San Diego a few weeks ago.

"It's been relatively quiet," Viezbicke said. "But March is usually our peak time."

The beached whale at Dockweiler looked thin - not a good sign.

"Given we are in the middle of an Unusual Mortality Event, the likelihood of it surviving isn't the best," Viezbicke said before its death. "It looks really skinny."

Viezbicke warned that people shouldn't approach the whale.

"It's best to give the animal as much space as possible," he said. "These are big animals. We just ask folks to give it space, whether it's dead or alive. There's really not a good reason to get close to it."

Peter Wallerstein, president and founder of Marine Animal Rescue, said Thursday afternoon the waves were too strong to get close enough to the whale to get samples for a necropsy.

The whale was to be towed about 20 miles out to sea by late afternoon.