Quantcast
Animals

30 Whales Have Died Off the Coast of Alaska and No One Knows Why

Whales are dying off the coast of Alaska and no one knows why. Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially declared the recent deaths of 30 large whales in the western Gulf of Alaska an "unusual mortality event," triggering an investigation into the cause of the mass die off. NOAA defines an unusual mortality event as "a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of a marine mammal population, and demands immediate response."

Since May, 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans have stranded around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska and the southern shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula. The uptick is nearly three times the average for the area. Last year, there were only five whale strandings for the entire year. There were also six dead stranded whales reported along British Columbia's north coast in the last few months, which is a significant increase above annual seasonal numbers for that area as well.

There's been a dramatic increase in whale strandings off the coast of Alaska and British Columbia and no one knows why. Photo credit: NOAA

"NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners are very concerned about the large number of whales stranding in the western Gulf of Alaska in recent months," said Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries' marine mammal health and stranding response coordinator. "While we do not yet know the cause of these strandings, our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live."

NOAA is encouraging the public to help out by immediately reporting any sightings of dead whales or distressed live animals they discover, but warns people not to get close or touch the animals.

This map from NOAA shows where the whale strandings have been. Photo credit: NOAA

"The prevailing theory is that a large toxic algae bloom off the West Coast might be to blame," reports CBC News. "However, scientists have been unable to make a concrete connection."

The West Coast has experienced the largest toxic algae bloom in a decade, forcing the closure of fisheries from California to Washington. This isn't the first time scientists have linked algae blooms and whale die offs. A toxic algae bloom this spring off the coast of Chile is the suspected cause of death for 20-30 sei whales.

Read page 1

"When algae that produces toxins overtakes a body of water, those toxins make it into the food chain by way of the tiny creatures that feed on it," reports the Washington Post. "In the case of these sei whales, the scientists studying them hypothesize, sardines poisoned by the algae could have given the whales deadly food poisoning."

NOAA cautions that these investigations often take months, even years, of data collection and analysis to reach a conclusive answer. So far, scientists working in Alaska have only been able to take the tissue sample of one of the carcasses, which NOAA described as a "less than ideal" sample. That sample tested negative for a type of toxin produced by algae, but the carcass was so decomposed that it may not be reliable, The Alaska Dispatch News reported. The scientists did not find a clear cause of death from that sample and many of the other carcasses have been unretrievable, or too badly decomposed to study.

"Alaska has an awful lot of coastline and much of it is difficult to reach," NOAA adviser Dr. Bree Witteveen told CBC News. "We can't get to those carcasses more often than not." They also have to deal with "predator competition" for sample sizes from the likes of bears and other animals.

Bears feed on the carcass of a beached whale. Photo credit: NOAA

NOAA said in an online FAQ that it's "highly unlikely" that radiation from Fukushima is playing a role, but "further testing is under way." Some have speculated that warmer temperatures may be to blame. The Alaska Dispatch News reported in June that surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska were running 0.9 to 3.6 degrees above average. There is no doubt that Alaska is rapidly warming due to climate change. Alaska's glaciers are melting even faster than most places along with the rest of the Arctic, which is warming at twice the rate of other regions.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

NOAA: July Was Hottest Month Ever Worldwide

One of World’s Fastest Melting Glaciers May Have Lost Largest Chunk of Ice in Recorded History

Earth Is Facing Most Severe Extinction Crisis in 65 Million Years

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Leonardo DiCaprio/Getty

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation Awards $20M in Largest-Ever Portfolio of Environmental Grants

Environmental activist and Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio announced that his foundation has awarded $20 million to more than 100 organizations supporting environmental causes.

This is the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation's (LDF) largest-ever portfolio of environmental grants to date. The organization has now offered more than $80 million in total direct financial impact since its founding in 1998.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Andrew Hart/Flickr

UN Environment Chief: Make Polluters, Not Taxpayers, Pay For Destroying Nature

Erik Solheim, the head of the United Nations' Environment Program, made an interesting point during a recent speech in New York: Companies, not taxpayers, should pay the costs of damaging the planet.

"The profit of destroying nature or polluting the planet is nearly always privatized, while the costs of polluting the planet or the cost of destroying ecosystems is nearly always socialized," Solheim said Monday, per Reuters, at the annual International Conference on Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

Keep reading... Show less
Soy was one of the key agricultural crops found to have decreased nutritional content when grown in a high C02 environment. Bigstockphoto

C02 and Food: We Can't Sacrifice Quality for Quantity

Bigger isn't always better. Too much of a good thing can be bad. Many anti-environmentalists throw these simple truths to the wind, along with caution.

You can see it in the deceitful realm of climate change denial. It's difficult to keep up with the constantly shifting—and debunked—denier arguments, but one common thread promoted by the likes of the Heartland Institute in the U.S. and its Canadian affiliate, the misnamed International Climate Science Coalition, illustrates the point. They claim carbon dioxide is good for plants, and plants are good for people, so we should aim to pump even more CO2 into the atmosphere than we already are.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Meet the 4 Horsemen of the EPA-pocalypse

By Mary Anne Hitt

Every week, another decision that endangers our families seems to come out of Scott Pruitt's and Donald Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The latest facepalm/outrage comes in the form of confirmation hearings that start this week for four completely unacceptable nominees to critical leadership positions at EPA.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular

Trump's Pick for Top EPA Post Under Scrutiny for Deep Ties to Chemical Industry

From Scott Pruitt to Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump has notoriously appointed a slew of individuals with serious conflicts of interests with the departments they oversee.

The latest is Michael L. Dourson, Trump's pick to head the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the government's chemical safety program. Media reports reveal that the toxicologist is under intense scrutiny for his extensive ties to the chemical industry and a resumé dotted with some of the biggest names in the field: Koch Industries Inc., Chevron Corp., Dow AgroSciences, DuPont and Monsanto.

Keep reading... Show less
Researchers warn that unchecked fossil fuel emissions would raise global temperatures to catastrophic levels. Gerry Machen / Flickr

New Study: Global Warming Limit Can Still Be Achieved

By Tim Radford

Scientists in the UK have good news for the 195 nations that pledged to limit global warming to well below 2°C: it can be done. The ideal limit of no more than 1.5°C above the average temperatures for most of human history is possible.

All it requires is an immediate reduction in the combustion of fossil fuels—a reduction that will continue for the next 40 years, until the world is driven only by renewable energy.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Hurricane-damaged Barbuda. Caribbean Community / Flickr

Devastated Island Leaders: Climate Change 'A Truth Which Hits Us'

As residents in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands prepared to take cover from Hurricane Maria, representatives of island nations devastated by hurricanes made a plea to the UN for recovery funding.

In a hastily-convened special session, leaders of Barbuda, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and other nations detailed the billions of dollars needed to rebuild after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and argued that the increasing impacts of climate change on island nations required a rethinking of how the UN provides humanitarian aid.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel / Facebook

National Guard Chief Highlights Climate Change as Pruitt Touts Denial on TV

Climate change could be causing storms to become "bigger, larger, more violent," underlining the need to have a robust military response to disasters across the country, the top officer of the National Guard Bureau said Tuesday.

"I do think that the climate is changing, and I do think that it is becoming more severe," Gen. Joseph Lengyel told reporters, noting the number of severe storms that have hit the U.S. in the past month. The general might want to take U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt aside for a chat on climate change and disasters: Pruitt sat down for two friendly interviews on Fox yesterday to tout his idea for a red team/blue team "debate" on climate.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox