The baby grey whale found Monday on a Moss Landing beach was born undersized and premature, researchers from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories have concluded.
The 700-pound, 13-foot whale was just one day old, amid what seems to be the seasonal high point for grey whale migrations through the Monterey Bay area. Already in distress when it was found, the whale was euthanized and taken to the lab for a necropsy.
"What's unique in this case is the calf was able to make its way to shore and there was separation from the mother," said Stephanie Hughes, marine mammal stranding network coordinator at Moss Landing Marine Lab. "Without mom, it really just didn't have a chance."
Hughes said it's hard to tell whether it was the same one spotted about three miles from shore by a whale-watching boat on Monday. She also said that whale could have been a yearling, since mothers and calfs travel together for up to two years.
However, the boat's crew reported that the whale they spotted was so small they initially mistook it for a sea lion.
Other than being premature, the whale's systems seemed to be normal, Hughes said. There were no signs of trauma.
"Nothing to do with ship strike or anything like that," Hughes said.
Researchers, including veterinarian Dave Casper from UCSC's Long Marine Laboratory, plan to review tissue samples to see if the mother had any infectious diseases, potentially triggering the premature birth.
"It's uncertain what the mother was up against,"