One of the largest whale carcasses ever found in the Mediterranean has been discovered along the coast of Italy.
The fin whale was discovered near the harbor of Sorrento in southwestern Italy on January 17, according to the Guardia Costiera, the coast guard authority of Italy. The carcass was brought to the attention of the coast guards after being alerted to a smaller whale that was said to be “in distress.” Its vast body was towed away by two boats to the nearby city of Naples where it will be examined by marine biologists in an attempt to find the precise cause of death.
“[T]he monitoring activities of the Coast Guard are also continuing for the possible identification of the smallest specimen, originally sighted in the port of Sorrento and which then took off, leaving its traces lost,” the Italian Coast Guard said in a press release.
The agency didn’t state how big the whale was, but they noted it's “one of the largest specimens of fin whale identified in the Mediterranean.” Reaching lengths of 25 meters (82 feet), fin whales are the second-largest animal species on planet Earth, beaten only by the blue whale, which can grow to a maximum of 29.9 meters (98 feet). Most unusually, scientists have found that fin whales and blue whales can breed and produce offspring.
Despite their gigantic size, the species tends to eat relatively small prey. The fin whale is a filter-feeder, feeding on small schooling fish, squid, krill, and other small crustaceans. They are what's known as a cosmopolitan species, meaning they can be found in all of the world's major oceans, from the polar regions to the tropics.
Like many species of large whales, the fin whale was heavily hunted during the 20th century and was considered an endangered species. However, their numbers have doubled since the 1970s, and the species is now listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN. It's though the species now has a global population of around 100,000 mature individuals, around 5,000 of which live in a subpopulation in the Mediterranean sea.
Whales can become beached, stranded, or found dead for a multitude of reasons, although it often raises concerns, especially when they’re discovered near built-up areas or busy portions of the sea. Back in 2019, a humpback whale was spotted swimming in London’s River Thames and was later found dead. A necropsy revealed that the whale had most likely been killed by a collision with a ship.