NOAA declares gray whale deaths 'unusual mortality event'
Nearly 150 stranded, dead gray whales have been found along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Alaska so far this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As of May 31, NOAA Fisheries has recorded 70 stranded gray whales in four states:
- Alaska: 5
- Washington: 25
- Oregon: 3
- California: 37
NOAA Fisheries has declared this high number of gray whale strandings an unusual mortality event (UME), under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Deborah Fauquier, DVM, Ph.D., a veterinary medical officer with the Office of Protected Resources, said in a teleconference Friday that the declaration triggers a greater investigation into the cause of the deaths. “Ultimately a UME investigation can help provide those answers to scientists, fisheries managers and policy-makers so we can make informed decisions to protect this important marine species.”
The last gray whale UME was declared in 2000 when more than 100 of the animals were found dead along the U.S. coast. According to NOAA Fisheries, no specific cause was ever found.
This time, researchers say they're off to a better start because there have been least 20 necropsies already performed on dead gray whales in 2019.
“The number one priority is learning as much as we can from the stranded animals and trying to understand what's happening with them and then our monitoring will continue,” David Weller, Ph.D., research wildlife biologist for the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, said.
While some suggest poor feeding grounds are to blame for the rise in gray whale deaths, scientists agree many more gray whale deaths are likely during the years it may take to find the cause of the 2019 strandings.
NOAA Fisheries estimates that 27,000 gray whales will migrate to Alaska this season.
To report a stranded or floating whale in Alaska, contact the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-877-925-7773, 24 hours a day.
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