Channel Islands
Cetacean Research Unit
For stranded whales, dolphins or porpoises 
(805) 896-0858

Responding to San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties

Recent Strandings


A common dolphin (Delphinus capensis) calf stranded in July.  This is a very young calf evident by the hair remaining on its rostrum (beak). If you look closely, you ca see a small white hair right where the rostrum meets the melon.  Samples were collected however, this calf had a horrible lung worm infestation and likely died from this parasite.


A young humpback whale washed in to Ventura Harbor in June.  It never fully beached itself so a complete necropsy was not possible.  We were able to collecte a few toxin and contaminant samples so we will still learn from the young animal.


A first for CICRU, a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas).  We did collect samples but this animal was not very fresh so I don’t think we will ever find out how she died.  Sea turtles do occasionally show up in the Santa Barbara Region so this is not completely unique.


September 2015 has been somewhat busy with strandings.  This is not uncommon as we often see a fall Harmful Algal Bloom causing domoic acid toxicity in our Santa Barbara Channel.  Samples have been collected and shipped, and we are just awaiting results.  Many thanks to The Marine Mammal Center for your assistance and teaching opportunity with this animal. 


A strong algal bloom did affect the marine mammals in the Santa Barbara Channel.  We are still waiting for final analysis and will post some numbers once we have them.

Refugio Incident

Santa Barbara Oil Spill

On May 19, 2015 a pipeline north of Refugio State Park, Santa Barbara County burst spewing approximately 20,000 gallons of oil into the ocean.  CICRU biologist assisted an amazing group of professionals from around the state in wildlife recovery.  Official numbers list 168 mammals recovered, 62 live and 106 dead.  This section will be updated as new information is available. 


May 2015

This map displays predicted chlorophyll levels for the California Coast.  The dark red areas indicate very high levels of photosynthetic algae, some of which produce toxins harmful to marine mammals and humans.



We responded to a dead stranded bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) on Montana de Oro beach in March.  Samples were collected and cause of death was not evident.  This appeared to be a 2-3 year old male.


California Sea Lion Event

California Sea Lion Event 2015

CICRU has been necropsying sea lions during the California Sea Lion Event of 2015 to try to determine if there is an underlying illness contributing to this unprecedented stranding event. Preliminary results suggest these animals died from immunosuppression due to chronic malnutrition. 



An adult gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) stranded about 1 mi north of Jalama Beach County Park.  The whale was too decomposed to collect samples but we did recover the baleen.


Grampus skull


On October 8, 2014 we responded to a dead dolphin on Point Mugu NAS.  While walking to the stranding, this beautiful Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) was discovered.  A nice addition to our teaching collection.



In August we had a fin whale that was found floating in Port Hueneme Harbor.  This whale was towed to a nearby beach and the necropsy confirmed the cause of mortality to be ship strike.  Many thanks to CIMWI (, and NOAA Fisheries for their tireless efforts in facilitating this necropsy.



We have seen several common dolphins this summer with is normal for this time of year and area.  The usual cause of death is a bio-toxin produced by an algae call domoic acid.  Samples collected from strandings this summer are still pending analysis.



In June a juvenile humpback whale stranded with evidence of human interaction.  There was  a fresh wound around the peduncle (tail) indicating some type of entanglement.