Disclaimer: This image has been slightly dramatized for effect.
Seen the Lower’s cam lately? It doesn’t even show the waves. Instead, it’s focused on the pointy end of SoCal’s beloved beach. Want to know why? Whale I’ll tell you why.
That’s right, the whale from several days ago has set up camp at everyone’s favorite A-frame. While I can understand the desire to reside on the fabled cobblestones, this whale doesn’t have much choice in the matter, because he’s dead. And on top of being dead, he’s really fucking big, and no one knows how to move him.
According to the OC Register, experts from the National Parks service are working hard to decide what to do with the massive pile of blubber and guts. They have a couple of options, but neither seems promising.
First they thought about transporting the whale to a nearby landfill, but because of the train tracks and general inaccessibility of the beach park, it would be nearly impossible to get a vehicle down there that is capable of moving the whale. The creature is 40 feet long and weighs upwards of 25 tons, so this is understandable.
Another option is to tow the whale out to sea, but that has its own set of problems. To start, there’s a chance the tail would rip off, as the whale has already been partially buried in the soft sand and the skin is quickly decomposing, meaning excessive tugging could lacerate the corpse. Even if they were able to get the whale out to the middle of the ocean, there’s a good chance it would just wash in somewhere else along the coastline, given current wind and swell conditions.
In the midst of Whalegate 2016, I decided to get in touch with Dave Weller, leading whale specialist for NOAA, to see what this could mean for Lower’s surfers. Slater thinks we’re doomed, but what do the experts have to say?
SURFING: So Dave, give it to me straight. Are we doomed? Did our relentless assault on the Earth’s environment cause the whale’s demise? What about sharks? Diseases? I’m freaking out man!
Dave: Relax, bud. The world isn’t ending. In fact, from what I hear, this whale died of natural causes. Gray whales die all the time from things like exhaustion, which is understandable considering the voyage they make every year.
What are you talking about, exactly?
Gray whales migrate along the Eastern Pacific between Mexico [in the winter] and Alaska [in the summer]. They do the majority of their feeding in the north, while they give birth in the south. It’s an incredibly long and strenuous journey.
So if these things are constantly dying, why don’t we see them?
There are dead whales out there every year. At this particular time, the whales are making their journey back north, and they happen to traverse SoCal coastlines. They don’t always get beached, but it’s not surprising that this one ended up on the shore.
Kelly Slater seems to think the whale’s appearance is karma for our negative contributions to the global environment, can you confirm or deny?
I’d say it’s more of a naturally occurring phenomenon. Fossils suggest it’s been happening since before man’s reign.
So, it’s almost summer, south swells are starting, and we want to surf Lower’s. Should we be afraid of sharks and/or disease?
That’s hard to answer definitively, but if I had to give an answer I would say no. The reason I say that is because in terms of disease, it is largely contained within the carcass, so there might be some oils leaking out that have some low-level contaminants in them, but I don’t think it’s anything of health concern for surfers in the water. It might be different if you were to touch the animal itself, but surfers should be fine.
In terms of sharks, we know about this whale because it’s on the beach, and it just so happens to be at a premier surf break. The fact is, in any given year, there are a number of whales floating off the coast that nobody every sees or reports. In that sense, the shark threat to surfers is pretty much equivalent to any other year.
Well, there you have it. According to a whale expert, we’re not necessarily to blame. Also, Lower’s is (maybe) safe to surf! With a fun-sized south-swell moving in over the weekend, it’ll be interesting to see who paddles out. Part of me wouldn’t be surprised to find a lone regular-footer enjoying the crowdless perks of his own Insta post. I’m onto you, Kelly!