Thirty dead whales were found washed ashore along Alaska’s southern coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) started investigating the case, looking for answers.
AN “UNUSUAL MORTALITY EVENT”
The federal government released an announcement on Thursday calling the matter an “unusual mortality event,” which is defined by the Marine Mammal Protection Act as animals that are stranded in an unexpected manner with the significant die-off of any marine mammal population that demands immediate response and action.
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The first mysterious whale death in Alaska was observed in May this year and, in total, 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, 1 lone grey whale and 4 other unidentified have been discovered in the last four months. The dead bodies have been washing up in along Western Alaska’s shores, such as Agognak Island, Kodial Island, the Semidi Islands and the Chirikof Island and scientists have already launched investigations in the areas of interest to uncover the mystery.
WHAT CAUSED THE WHALES’ DEATH?
While Julie Speegle from NOAA told The Guardian that their theory is that the harmful algal bloom has led the whales to their deaths, Teri Rowles says that the only one sample that has been taken from one of the whales revealed that that it was negative for domoic acid. Domoic acid is a toxin produced by algae, but since the samples are already beyond decomposition, the results may not be as definitive.
Rowles, who is the coordinator of the Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response program, notes that the exact cause of the deaths will be determined after we obtain helpful data about the total state of the whales’ health and the environment they belong to.
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In addition, another factor causing delay is the location itself. Bree Witteveen, a marine mammal specialist and lead investigator, says that acquiring samples from the dead whales is quite challenging due to Alaska’s massive, uninhabited and inaccessible coastline.
WHEN WILL WE GET SOME ANSWERS?
The investigation could take months or even years and the results may not lead to a conclusion. However, researchers are collecting water samples to search for any harmful substance or possible changes in water temperature, and they have been studying at least one species of seabird.
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The common mure has also been reported suffering a die-off in June, “in unusual numbers” and with “many appearing weak” in Alaska, and scientists do not know yet whether the bird deaths were related to the deaths of the whales.