Mysterious 16ft Whale With Tiny Flippers Washes Up Dead on California Coast

A mysterious 16-foot whale with tiny flippers has washed up dead on the California coast, scientists said.

The whale was found stranded on the Mendocino Coast in Northern California, with injuries to its jaw.

Scientists believe it's a type of beaked whale—an elusive deep water species that is rarely seen in the wild. Sometimes referred to as giant bottlenose whales, they resemble dolphins, but they have tiny flippers and long rows of tusk-like teeth.

Teams from the Noyo Center for Marine Science attended the scene of the stranding to conduct a necropsy and collect samples, they said in a statement.

Samples collected from the body will determine its species in a few weeks, SFGate reported.

The Noyo Center's interpretive facilities manager, Trey Petrey, who also attended the scene, told SFGate that it was "very humbling" to see the animal washed ashore.

"It's kind of heart-breaking to see them dead, but it's a good experience in terms of anyone interested in marine science to have the opportunity to see a specimen like that," he told the news outlet.

The whale was found with trauma to its jaw

The center will also run more tests to determine its cause of death.

There are at least 22 species of beaked whales. They prefer deep water environments, about 3,300 feet below the surface. Scientists know little about their population worldwide, or their biology, as they are so rarely seen and difficult to study.

While it isn't yet clear what may have killed this beaked whale, marine mammal strandings can happen for a variety of reasons. They happen on a global scale and whales and dolphins are particularly prone.

Samples will determine its species and cause of death

Marine mammals can get stranded due to illness, when they become weak and unable to swim against the currents.

They can also get washed ashore because of injuries sustained from becoming trapped in fishing gear, or after colliding with vessels or ships.

The Noyo Center for Marine Science said in a statement that strandings like this, particularly for rarely seen species, can provide scientists with "important information" on their biology and health.

A stranding "provides basic information on the biology and ecology of marine mammal species, such as an animal's range, age, the types of prey it consumes, and the occurrence of diseases within the population," the statement said.

"Strandings also provide important information on human impacts to marine mammals."

Moe Flannery, senior collections manager of ornithology and mammalogy at the Cal Academy of Sciences, told SFGate, that this was a "really important stranding" as it's "so rare" to see this species "alive or dead."

Beaked whale
A file photo of a beaked whale in the ocean. Some species are rarely seen due to them dwelling in deep waters. HeitiPaves/Getty Images