Sperm whale in Brookings and gray whale in Humboldt

The decomposing body of a 40-foot sperm whale that washed ashore on a Brookings beach Friday was still drawing a crowd Monday.

Authorities, who decided not to bury the carcass, are encouraging people who visit the beach, near Chetco Point, to observe the whale from a safe distance, "upwind strongly recommended," according to a Oregon Parks and Recreation Department official.

Chetco Point is located next to the city's wastewater treatment plant at the end of Wharf Street. The whale is located on a small section of sandy beach along an otherwise rocky shoreline.

The city, which received a report of the whale early Friday, contacted the state agency, which determined that it was best to let the whale decompose on the beach.

The sand at the beach is too shallow to bury the animal, officials said.

State park staff members cordoned off the whale with yellow caution tape. Officials recommended that people stay a safe distance from the whale for health and safety reasons. Pets should be kept on a tight leash to prevent them from coming in contact with the carcass. Tampering with or collecting pieces from a dead whale is prohibited by federal law.

Officials said the carcass will decompose naturally, be picked apart by scavengers such as gulls and turkey vultures, or be carried back out on the high tide.

Dead whales and other marine mammals are not uncommon on the Southern Oregon and Northern California shores, but sperm whales are rarer than the grey whales that migrate annually offshore, officials said.

Meanwhile, researchers have been unable to determine what caused the deaths of two gray whales that have washed onto Northern California shores in the past week.

The Times-Standard of Eureka reported that Humboldt State University professor Dawn Goley was called to Manila Beach on Saturday evening on a report of a stranded whale. Goley said the 30-foot long whale had scars indicating it may have been caught in fishing gear, but it was too decomposed to know for certain.

She estimated its age at around 1.

Decomposition also prevented researchers on Friday from determining what led to the death of another gray whale that washed ashore on Dillon Beach in Marin County. Marine Mammal Center spokesman Jim Oswald told the Marin Independent Journal the researchers did collect bones that will be used for future study.