A gray whale that had probably been dead for weeks washed up on an Orange County beach Thursday.

The decaying carcass was found on Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach, where officials told onlookers to keep their distance from the massive mammal.

“If you do see a dead whale on the beach, give it some space. We don’t always know why these things are on the beach,” said Justin Viezbicke, the California coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.

Viezbicke said that a beached whale provides scientists with a great opportunity to study the animal and learn, but that the discovery of a gray whale is not unusual. Ten to 12 end up beached in California per year.

Gray whales, once known as “Devil Fish” for their aggressive response to whalers’ harpoons, migrate annually from the cold Alaskan waters of the Pacific down to the lagoons off the coast of Mexico. About 15,000 gray whales idle past Southern California on their annual sojourn, according to Viezbicke.

A gray whale can grow up to 50 feet long. The one found Thursday appeared to be about 30 feet, one witness told the Orange County Register.

A fin whale that washed up on Bolsa Chica State Beach nearly two years ago measured 65 feet.

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