The spike in gray whale deaths has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A mysterious surge in the death of gray whales has left scientists concerned, and now two more gray whales were just found dead on the Alaskan coast, according to KTUU. This brings the total to 7 in Alaska this year, and 75 all along the West Coast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received a report of a dead gray whale floating in Portage Bay on Kodiak Island last week. During a follow-up aerial survey, Alaska Regional Health Specialist and Data Manager Dr. Kate Savage noted that the whale was beached, and they also discovered another dead gray whale floating near the island of Aiaktalik, off the eastern coast of Kodiak.
"Since January 1, 2019, elevated gray whale strandings have occurred along the west coast of North America from Mexico through Alaska. This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event," NOAA Fisheries reported.
Officials remain stumped about what killed a grey whale found in Boundary Bay this week. It's one of nearly 150 to turn up dead between Mexico and Alaska this year. https://t.co/6StKsiXkVq— CKNW (@CKNW) June 7, 2019
Dr. Savage noted that the whale was about 30 feet long, and had signs of killer whale predation. Two more whales were found dead in Washington earlier last week. NOAA Fisheries found that some of the whales were found underweight, and it is speculated that they could not find enough food during their migration.
"Why these whales are malnourished is the mystery we are trying to unravel," NOAA spokesman Michael Milstein told CNN. "Something is going on." He also noted that climate change could be a factor in the increasing whale deaths. The death rate of the whales is reportedly the highest it has been in two decades.
Sixth in two months, @DFO_Pacific is working with counterparts in the U.S and Mexico to examine the potential cause of the deaths, which are occurring on the whales’ spring migration north to summer feeding groundshttps://t.co/v8SubLHXvW— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) June 5, 2019
Gray whales do a majority of their eating for the year during summer in the Arctic and then migrate to spend half the year in Mexico. The behemoths can reach a weight of 90,000 pounds, and the species was taken off the Endangered Species List in 1994. John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research said he is concerned with so many deaths observed this early.
"The majority of the dead animals we've seen are extremely malnourished and emaciated," he said. "We have no direct evidence but it's particularly concerning with the changes in the Arctic ecosystem." Five more whales have been discovered dead on British Columbia beaches, and that's estimated to be a mere fraction of the whales that have died this year.
A fifth grey whale has been found dead on B.C.’s coast, in what one research biologist says could be a trend toward record-setting deaths. https://t.co/tpaLTjr9lX— Oceana Canada (@OceanaCAN) June 2, 2019
NOAA Fisheries is urging people to immediately report dead, injured, or stranded marine mammals if spotted, including the whales. A report can be made by calling the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-866-767-6114, in California, Oregon or Washington.
In Alaska, people can call the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-877-925-7773. People in Canada can reach the British Columbia Marine Mammal Response Network on 1-800-465-4336 to make a report. The NOAA also warns concerned citizens not to touch or approach injured or dead whales, as only local, state officials and people authorized by NOAA Fisheries may legally handle live and dead marine mammals.