Endangered whales found dead in hull of Australian warship

Two endangered whales were dislodged from the hull of an Australian destroyer last weekend once it docked in San Diego, CNN reports.

The two whales, identified as fin whales, were found dead as the HMAS Sydney berthed in Naval Base San Diego.

One whale measured was 65 feet in length, and the other was about 25 feet long, 10News San Diego reported.

Fin whales, the second-largest whale species, are protected under the Endangered Species Act, meaning they are monitored by NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An investigation into how the whales ended up lodged in the ship's hull is underway.

The Australian Navy said they were upset by the incident, issuing a statement saying, "The Navy takes marine mammal safety seriously and is disheartened this incident occurred."

NOAA Fisheries estimates there are between 14,000 and 18,000 fin whales in the entire North Pacific and about 82,000 in in the southern hemisphere. Inadvertent vessel strikes are named as among the main causes of death for fin whales.

"The projected increase in ship traffic arising from the opening of trans-polar shipping routes (as arctic sea ice continues to decline) will increase the risk of vessel strike, and also increase ambient noise and pollution," NOAA Fisheries said.

John Calambokidis, a research biologist at the Cascadia Research Collective in Washington, called the finding "sad," but also "not surprising." 

"While it possibly could be separate incidents, it also possible this is a mother and calf from the size distribution," he added, according to 10News San Diego.

The HMAS Sydney, a relatively new ship commissioned in May 2020, has a hull that extends 23.6 feet below the waterline.