A grey whale killed by a ship is a science exhibit in San Francisco

A female gray whale believed to have been killed by a ship and found near Muir Beach will reuse its 400-pound skull as a teaching tool at the Presidio’s field station. (National Park Service)

This January, California experienced historic storms that battered the coast with waves up to 50 feet high. The incredible surf washed up a lot of interesting things in the sand, but probably nothing more poignant than the massive skull of a gray whale on Muir Beach.

The skull weighs around 400 pounds, which isn’t surprising given that gray whales – which travel near the California coast on their migration between Mexico and the Arctic – typically weigh more than 50,000 pounds and are 40 feet long. And as luck would have it, marine researchers already knew the creature it belonged to: a 38-foot woman believed to have been killed in a ship attack near the Golden Gate Bridge last spring and whose body was found on nearby Little Beach washed up.

The logistics of transporting the carcass proved daunting, so the decision was made to allow the whale to decompose naturally. That way, it could continue to return after death, a Marine Mammal Center spokesman said, because natural decomposition “provides an essential food source for small forage fish, birds, crustaceans, small land-based predators, and nitrogen back into the ecosystem.”

Now the whale’s skull will offer even more value. A National Park Service official decided that the “Presidio Field Station, a new park curiosity lab at the Presidio Tunnel Tops, would be an ideal place to share it and its history with the public,” says Damien Raffa, Senior Park Experience and Partnerships Specialist at the Presidio Trust. Volunteers working with the National Park Service bundled the skull onto a truck and carted it to San Francisco where it will be on display.

“These are now the largest bones in the Presidio Field Station collection, and we hope their presence will inspire wonder about these water giants who are ancient migrants along the Golden Gate,” says Raffa. “We are honored to be its stewards and to be able to share this beautiful planetary life form with park visitors.”

Volunteers help transport the skull of a gray whale killed by a ship from Muir Beach to the Presidio Field Station.Volunteers help transport the skull of a gray whale killed by a ship from Muir Beach to the Presidio Field Station. (National Park Service)

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