SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. (AP) — Crews used earth-moving equipment Thursday to begin removing a massive gray whale carcass from Southern California's San Onofre State Beach.
A bulldozer rolled the 30-ton whale away from the water's edge and higher up the beach.
A heavy equipment operator then used a mechanical claw to chop off pieces, which were hauled by dump trucks to a landfill.
The work, expected to take up to two days, was being done under an emergency contract at a cost of about $30,000, according to the state parks department.
The whale washed ashore Sunday at a famous surf break called Lower Trestles north of downtown San Diego.
Dead whales are sometimes disposed of by towing them back out to sea, but that was not feasible because of the week's low tidal levels.
Despite a long hike from the closest parking area and stench from the decaying leviathan, the whale drew curiosity-seekers for several days. The public was urged to stay away during the removal work.
Wildlife experts earlier took samples from the whale to try to determine why it died. It did not have obvious injuries.
Gray whales are currently migrating north toward arctic waters after wintering in Baja California lagoons where most mating and birthing occurs. The roundtrip is about 10,000 miles.
The Eastern North Pacific population of gray whales was nearly hunted to extinction before protections began in the 1930s.
Since then, it has recovered to numbers estimated to range between 18,000 and 30,000 — believed to be the original size — and it was removed from the U.S. list of endangered and threatened wildlife in 1994, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.
The average lifespan of grays is not known, but it one was once estimated to be 75 to 80 years old, according to NOAA.