The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched an investigation into the matter, as in a statement posted on their website last week they declared themselves very concerned with the event. According to the statement, the unusual mortality event term is attributed to the unexpected death of a significant number of any types of marine mammals.
The deaths started being observed in May 2015, as different species of whales ended up washed ashore regularly. The tally has now grown to fourteen humpback whales, eleven fin whales, one gray whale and four which were not identified. All of them were found around the same area – the southern coast of Alaska, around the Gulf of Alaska and its western islands, and the rate at which they are being discovered is three times the usual one for whales in the area.
Calling the deaths an unusual mortality event allows experts at NOAA to start an investigation alongside federal and Alaskan partners to determine the causes of the unusual deaths. The agency claims that the event has gotten their experts very concerned, and that they hope to find and solve the reason for this high mortality rate – be it environmental or man-made. They also urged the public to report any sightings of dead whales or other marine animals they see.
The event is particularly worrisome as both the fin and humpback whales are endangered species – and whatever causes their deaths seems to be causing it in chunks, as most of the fin whales appeared to have died around the same time. At the moment, the most plausible theory seems to points towards something toxic making its way into their diets. Many marine deaths have been linked to biotoxins in the last twenty years, as a well known toxic algal bloom is currently being monitored stretching all the way from the Gulf of Alaska to the Mexican coast.
However, the investigation could last for a long time, as in the last 24 years only about half of stranded whales investigation actually provided a conclusive reason. The identified ones were caused by infections, human poaching, malnutrition and, last but not least, biotoxins.
Image Source: The Guardian/a>