Shockingly, This Blue Whale Was Bitten In Half

No one ever expects to find a blue whale bitten in half. It’s not something that happens every day, even in the ocean – especially considering that blue whales are the largest animals known to have ever lived, and they’re rarely seen anywhere near the surface of the water by humans. But that didn’t stop some fisherman off the coast of New Zealand from running into this grisly sight earlier this month.

What happened?

A rare blue whale carcass washed up on a beach in Southern California. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has performed necropsies on both halves of the creature. Here’s what they found. ***WARNING: Graphic image below*** It’s not unusual for whales to get caught in fishing nets and get cut in half. But rarely do we get to see one so clearly divided like we can with D-6567—better known as Bluey. This massive cetacean was stranded at Huntington Beach, California on May 1st after getting stuck in a set of crab traps.

The causes

Scientists don’t know why blue whales get bitten in half. Blue whales are one of Earth’s largest animals, so it stands to reason that they must have some pretty big predators. But despite being one of Earth’s largest animals (blue whales can grow to be over 100 feet long and weigh as much as 200 tons), there are no known predators for blue whales. That is until now: a dead blue whale washed up on shore near California’s Orange County with a large bite mark on its back and belly. The damage appears to be caused by a predator; but scientists still aren’t sure what kind of animal could have done such damage.

The effects

Massive whales can weigh up to 150 tons, or nearly three times as much as a typical school bus. If a blue whale was bitten in half—especially by something with less than a peck of destructive power—you’d expect to see blood and mangled flesh. Surprisingly, there wasn’t any of that. Here’s what scientists found instead: no marks on or near any bones or organs; very little blood in the water; even fewer flies and fish feeding on it. What happened?

The culprits

Researchers suspect a large pod of killer whales were responsible for attacking and eating part of an endangered blue whale. The attack happened near California’s Farallon Islands. A marine biologist took these photos while on his boat during a whale-watching trip off San Francisco. The sight was nothing short of shocking. I’ve never seen anything like it, said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a wildlife researcher who operates Blue Waters Cruises out of Monterey Bay and has been monitoring orcas since 1976.

How to prevent it

If a boat collides with a whale, it can cause some serious damage. The sheer size of these creatures makes avoiding collisions difficult: from head to tail blue whales are as long as three school buses lined up end-to-end. They’re generally not considered aggressive and tend to swim away when boats approach—but that’s not always enough to escape harm. One way of preventing whale bites is by staying alert while driving or boating around them: watch for their spouts or flukes (tails) sticking out of water and slow down when they’re nearby.

Current death toll

Blue whales are big—real big. Like, twice as long as a football field big. In some areas of the world—like waters off of Australia and New Zealand—humpback whales come in contact with blue whales. So when researchers with Project Jonah came across what they believe to be a blue whale that had been bitten by a humpback near Eden on New South Wales’ South Coast earlier today, they were understandably shocked.

Lessons learned

A blue whale is one of Earth’s largest creatures. An adult blue whale can weigh over 200 tons and reach lengths of 100 feet. That makes it one of nature’s most formidable predators—so when researchers in Australia discovered a deceased blue whale that had been bitten in half by something far smaller than itself, they were shocked. The autopsy revealed that part of its tail was bitten off by another massive creature—another whale or perhaps a giant squid? Whatever bit it to death was certainly big enough to bite through two meters (6 feet) of blubber and muscle. Indeed, scientists have never seen anything like it…until recently!

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