What’s killing whales off B.C.-Alaska coast?

30 dead whales detected in the Gulf of Alaska since May, a die-off more than three times the normal rate, according to NOAA’ scientists.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes the 30 dead cetaceans found along the Alakan coast as a mysterious whale mass die-off and “Unusual Mortality Event”.

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NOAA preocupated by unprecedent die-off of large whales along the coast of Alaska. Chart by NOAA

You don’t need to be an expert in whale strandings to know that things are looking pretty bleak. As of August, 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale and four unidentified species have been spotted dead in the western Gulf of Alaska. The unexpected upticks in deaths — 30 since May, more than three times the average for the area — have triggered an official investigation.

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Scientists from NOAA are investigating a the body dead whale found along Alaska since May 2015.

According to an FAQ on NOAA’s Web site, deaths have also been reported by researchers in neighboring British Columbia. An unusual number of birds have also been dying this summer along the Alaska Peninsula, but it’s not clear whether any of these deaths are related.

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The body of a dead whale stranded on a beach of Alaska in June 2015.

One cause that they’ve basically ruled out is radiation exposure. All it takes is a quick Google to know that many instinctively blame the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster for animal deaths. In acknowledgement of that, NOAA has added a note to its FAQ confirming that the tissue they sampled showed no signs of such contamination, but they’ll continue to test for it.

Parts of this article were first published in The Washington Post’s article entitled: Since May, 30 whales have died off the Alaskan coast. Scientists are racing to find out why.

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