The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday issued a news release declaring the deaths of 30 whales in the western Gulf of Alaska and the southern shores of the Alaska Peninsula to be an “unusual mortality event.”
The deaths of 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale and four unidentified whales has triggered an investigation into the event. An “unusual mortality event” is described as a stranding event that is unexpected, and involving a significant die-off of marine mammals, according to the news release.
The Canada Journal reports the deaths of the 30 large whales in this region is almost three times the historical average. Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries’ marine mammal health and stranding response coordinator, said, “NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners are very concerned about the large number of whales stranding in the western Gulf of Alaska in recent months.”
The CBC reports that only one sample from a dead whale, deemed “less than ideal” has been collected for testing. It came back negative for one strain of algae. That brings to light another problem. It is sometimes difficult to get to a carcass, or predatory animals get there first.
“Alaska has an awful lot of coastline and much of it is difficult to reach,” said NOAA adviser Dr. Bree Witteveen. “We can’t get to those carcasses more often than not.”
There have been a number of suggested reasons for the deaths, including algae blooms, but there has been no indication to suggest that would be the cause. NOAA says that at this time, they don’t know what is to blame for the strandings, but the investigation will give them important information on the whale’s health and the health of their ecosystem, as well.
NOAA is asking for help from the public. If a dead whale is found, please immediately contact the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network hotline at 877-9-AKR-PRD (877-925-7773). The public is asked to not approach or touch the stranded animal.
In British Columbia, people can call the 24 hour Marine Mammal Incident hotline at 1-800-465-4336.