[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Klamath whale likely died from a fungal skin infection


Eureka, CA - "MaMa," the gray whale that delighted throngs of motorists and tourists at the Klamath River over the summer, died of a fungal skin infection, scientists said Wednesday.

The news came amid reports that a gray whale washed ashore in Bandon, Ore., on Sunday could be her calf. Oregon state officials said that turned out to be incorrect.

Calum Stevenson, an ocean shore natural resource specialist for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department who helped bury the deceased whale on Wednesday, said it was definitely not a juvenile.

"It turned out to be an adult," Stevenson said. "It was 39 feet long."

A television group with the King Broadcasting Company in Portland, Ore., reported that a 20-foot-long juvenile gray whale had washed ashore and that biologists were trying to figure out if it could be the calf of "MaMa."

Stevenson said the whale was found on the beach on Christmas day and that it had likely been deceased and out at sea for about a week. He said workers had to move the whale about one-quarter mile south of its location in order to bury it Wednesday.

"We dragged it and then dug a 15-foot-deep hole and buried it in the sand," Stevenson said.

Humboldt State University marine biology professor Dawn Goley said a 39-foot whale is pretty much a full-grown adult and that it's highly unlikely such a large whale would be MaMa's calf.

MaMa entered the river with her calf on June 24, swimming as far inland as the U.S. Highway 101 bridge. Three weeks after entering the river, her calf swam back to the ocean. MaMa stayed and eventually died on Aug. 16.

Before MaMa was buried on the Klamath riverbank by the Yurok Tribe, biologists did a necropsy -- an animal autopsy -- to determine the whale's cause of death. Goley said the recently received results of tissue samples from MaMa showed she had a secondary infection caused by the integrity of her skin being compromised.

"Cellularly, there were sort of breaks in the skin that could allow pathogens to get in," Goley said.

Sarah Wilkin, stranding coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, said it was likely MaMa's skin infection that killed her. Wilkin said the whale had some sort of fungal infection.

"It is definitely from being in fresh water," Wilkin said. "It weakened the skin and allowed for a way for the fungus to get in."


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