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Learn from the Bodies of Whales That Have Died
Sometimes baby whales are found after they've died. This offers scientists an opportunity to study and learn from the body. In that way, some good can come from the baby whale's death.

In February 2010 a six-week-old whale had been seen along the coast near Santa Barbara, California. The whale baby was always alone, and never with her mother. That was a sign of a problem: Had the mother been killed by a ship, or an orca (killer whale)? Had the mother been sick and died? Was there some reason why the baby wasn't fit enough to keep up with her mom? (A whale mom normally stays with her baby for six or seven months.)

Not long after the sightings, the young baby washed up dead on Goleta Beach. Careful scientists examined her body. They found that her belly was full of sand. "She was attempting to feed, but wasn't very successful," said Michelle Berman of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. "She must have seen her mom feed, so she knew to skim along the bottom and suck things up, but she didn't know not to eat the sand."    

This is where scientists stop and wonder: How can they learn more? Maybe YOU will take the challenge to explore the answers as a marine biologist!

Dead gray whale is studied by scientists Alisa Schulman-Janiger and John Heyning.

This juvenile gray whale was entangled in a gill net and drowned, just north of the Los Angeles Harbor.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger is photographing live gray whale barnacles and lice. Her colleague Dr. John Heyning removed the yellow baleen and is carrying it off the beach. He wll take the baleen to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History to be archived and used for growth studies. Baleen can also be used to determine contaminants consumed in the whales's diet. (Contaminants are deposited in the baleen, similar to those deposited in human hair.) Dr. Heyning was Deputy Director of Research and Collections at the Museum and was on the Museum's stranding team along with Dave Janiger. This location is just a few miles south of our ACS/LA Gray WHale Census and Behavior Project station (Post 6), at Pt. Vicente.