POINT REYES STATION — Another dead whale washed ashore in Northern California, the 12th carcass that has appeared in the past few months and marks a higher-than-normal number of deaths but not a record.
The dozen whales have been found along nearly 300 miles of coastline and are of different species and various ages. In a typical year, one or two gray whales wash ashore, said Frances Gulland, the senior scientist for the Marine Mammal Center.
The most recent animal appeared Tuesday on a beach along the Point Reyes National Seashore, officials said. It's badly decomposed and headless, making identifying the species and its age difficult, said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
"(The condition) suggests it could be a killer whale attack," she said.
Scientists are trying to determine if there is a connection between the beached whales, The San Francisco Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/1Bp1F2A ). They are considering factors such as environmental changes, food distribution, shipping and predator behavior.
"We are seeing them coming from so many different species and various causes of death," Schramm said. "One of the reasons we are seeing such a cluster at one time is we have very strong winds that have been blowing consistently that are washing things onto shore."
Scientists say the deaths could be part of the annual gray whale migration from Mexico to Alaska, the newspaper reported.
At least one of the whales showed evidence of being hit by a ship. Two others were missing limbs, which indicates they got tangled in fishing gear or attacked by killer whales.
The latest beached whale appeared a few days after a 28-foot juvenile gray whale washed up on the Sonoma County coast. Last week, a gray whale carcass appeared in Half Moon Bay as officials buried a sperm whale and a humpback whale.
In April, two gray whales got beached in Santa Cruz County, a killer whale was found near Fort Bragg and a gray whale washed up in Monterey County.
Many of the dead were gray whales, but they were so badly decomposed that researchers have not been able to determine how they died, Gulland said.
The last large increase in whale deaths was in 1999 and 2000, when 40 dead gray whales were found on beaches in the Bay Area, she said.
Before that die-off, there were 26,600 gray whales nationwide, according to estimates by the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle.
Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com