A saber-toothed beaked whale, which is normally seen in the Bering Sea, washed ashore in Venice Beach on Tuesday night.
The 15-foot-long female Stejneger’s beaked whale was placed on a truck Wednesday and transported to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, where it will be necropsied to determine how it died, the Associated Press reports.
"We were very lucky," Nick Fash, who works at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, told the Los Angeles Times. "These whales are incredibly rare and almost never seen in the wild."
Fash speculates the whale was alive when it was ashore. Peter Wallerstein of Marine Animal Rescue, who helped pull the animal from the water, agrees. "We helped get it out of the water, and it was still alive," he told Patch. "I was kind of shocked because we couldn't identify it."
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The whale, also known as a Saber-toothed whale, was covered in “cookie-cutter shark bites” that appear as white circles on the whale’s flesh. Cookie-cutter sharks, one of the smallest shark species, can be found in depths of 11,500 feet but venture to the surface during the night to feed. They typically live in warmer, coastal waters in equatorial oceans.
Wallerstein says these rare whales, which feeds on fish and squid, normally migrate south in the winter – but not as far south as California.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Stejneger's beaked whales face threats from marine debris like plastic bags and strings. An autopsy on the whale’s corpse can reveal the cause of death and what the rare whale ate. Not only is it rare to find a Stejneger's beaked whale, but to find one so intact is even more unusual, Fash said.
"This is the best," Fash said. "(Previous finds) aren't anything like this. This is a treat."
This isn’t the first unusual marine animal to wash ashore in Southern California this week. An 18-foot oarfish carcass was discovered by a snorkeler off Catalina Island on Sunday. The serpent-like creature most likely died of natural causes.
"It just amazed me," Jeff Chace, director of the Catalina Island Marine Institute, told the Los Angeles Times. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery."