Scientists sink body of fin whale off San Diego coast - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Scientists sink body of fin whale off San Diego coast

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The 67-foot fin whale that washed up dead near the mouth of San Diego Bay was moved out to the Pacific Ocean Friday.

San Diego lifeguards took advantage of the unusually high tide to tow the carcass from Fiesta Island about 8 a.m., lifeguard Chief Rick Wurts said.

A large catamaran, funded in part by Richard Branson's Virgin Oceanic organization, towed the remains about five miles west of La Jolla, where it was sunk in about 800 meters of water by adding "several tons" of steel, executive director of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Nigella Hillgarth said.

The chosen site was near the Scripps Submarine Canyon, and Scripps Institute of Oceanography scientists would be able to study the whale as it decomposes to find out how a new ecosystem forms around it, a process which could last several years, Hillgarth said.

"There are all these organisms that only live on whale carcasses that turn up," Hillgarth said. "Hopefully we'll get really exciting information from that."

Fin whales, found in oceans all over the world, were nicknamed the "greyhound of the sea" because they can swim as fast as 23 mph, are the second-largest species of whale and can grow up to 75 feet and weigh 70 tons, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Taking fin whales, prized for their oil, was largely banned by 1976. North Pacific fin whales off the California and Oregon coasts are estimated to number around 2,500.

THIS IS A STORY UPDATE. Read an earlier story below.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Scientists say a 67-foot-long fin whale that washed ashore near San Diego died after being struck by a ship.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the carcass will be dragged several miles offshore Friday, loaded with four tons of steel and sunk into 2,500 feet of water.

The original plan was to dump the whale to a landfill, but Richard Branson's Virgin Oceanic organization said it would pay for the whale to be towed off the coast so its underwater decomposition can be studied.

A team of scientists spent several hours Wednesday performing a necropsy and determined the cause of death after examining the broken bones. They also gathered tissue and organ samples to study whale DNA.

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Information from: The San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.signonsandiego.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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