Scientists from the Marine Mammal Center in northern California believe they’ve discovered the cause of death of a female blue whale that washed up on a Marin County beach Thursday, and it's a human one. Injuries found on the 79-foot whale during a necropsy conducted Saturday—including 10 broken ribs, a fractured spine, and a damaged skull—indicate that the mammal was struck by a ship, reports SFGate. A local scientist posted a graphic photo of the researchers examining what he called "blue whale road kill," writing, "only through teamwork can researchers @calacademy find the cause of death, but looks like it was a ship." Barbie Halaska tells the Mercury News some cargo ships wouldn’t even notice a collision with a 300,000-pound blue whale because "these are huge boats."
"People who have come into port with whales on the bow of their ships have told us they had no idea," she says. SFGate calls whale-ship collisions a "leading cause" of death for the creatures; the Mercury News notes another blue whale that was struck washed ashore in the area just this October, though scientists say they more often sink to the ocean floor following a ship strike. This latest blue whale was well-known to researchers, having been first identified in 1999 and seen on 11 more occasions by the scientific community. Halaska says the research being conducted around its death can help change conditions for the future when it comes to things like shipping routes and speeds. (It turns out there's a simple reason why blue whales got so huge.)