Inquiry as 30 dead whales wash up on Alaskan shores in less than four months

Since May, a reported 14 humpback whales, 11 fin whales, one grey whale and four further unidentified whale carcasses have been found along the coastline

Tim Walker
Sunday 23 August 2015 19:57
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A fin whale carcass is surrounded by bears in Larson Bay, Alaska
A fin whale carcass is surrounded by bears in Larson Bay, Alaska

US officials are to investigate why more than 30 large whales have washed up on Alaskan shores in less than four months, almost three times the annual historical average.

Since May, a reported 14 humpback whales, 11 fin whales, one grey whale and four further unidentified whale carcasses have been found along the coastline of the northernmost US state. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared the deaths an “unusual mortality event” (UME).

In a statement, Dr Teri Rowles, who coordinates the NOAA’s response to such strandings, said agency scientists were “very concerned”. Officials in the neighbouring Canadian province of British Columbia have also reported an unusually high number of whale deaths this year.

Declaring a UME allows the agency to open a formal investigation. Scientists said one possible cause of the widespread fatalities could be a large algae bloom spanning most of North America’s western coastline. “Our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live,” Dr Rowles said.

So far, scientists have been able to test just one of the cetacean carcasses, most of which were irretrievable. Bears have been spotted feeding on some of the dead whales. The NOAA said its investigation may take many months.

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