Scientists are still shocked at what could have caused 30 whales to wash ashore on Alaskan coasts, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has commenced investigations into the otherwise common phenomenon.
This is not the first time tens of whales wash ashore in beaches. It has happened in California, New Zealand, South Africa and countless other places. Sometimes it is just a whale that beaches and then gets stranded on the beach, and sometimes several whales beach and dehydrate to death; and at other times, over 30 have just died in the waters for unknown causes and then washed ashore in several places across the world.
“While we do not yet know the cause of these strandings, our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live,” said Dr. Teri Rowles of NASA.
Since May, about 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale, and four other unknown cetaceans have been discovered stranded on beaches in Alaska; with several of them found dead on the Kodiak archipelago.
“Our leading theory at this point is that the harmful algal bloom has contributed to the deaths,” NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle said. “But we have no conclusive evidence. The bottom line is we don’t know what’s causing these deaths.”
Many of the marine animals are already decomposing by the time they are found, and the carcasses of several others are seen floating closer to the beach. Sometimes bears and birds among other lucky predators feed on the beached carcasses.
One fin whale was hit by a ship, and one sperm whale and four humpbacks were stranded in British Columbia, Canada a few days ago.
“They appear to have all died around the same time,” Wynne said. “And the strange thing is they are all one species, with the exception of one dead humpback whale found in a different location,” said marine mammal specialist Kate Wynne. “Why just fin whales? Why not their prey? Why are there not other consumers in the system showing up in mass die-off mode?”
Fin whales could live as much as 80 years and grow up to 75 feet long, while humpbacks could grow to about 50 feet.
Although scientists continue to investigate the massive deaths of the sea animals, they believe that infections, malnutrition, biotoxins, human interactions, and poisons of harmful algal blooms among other factors have been responsible for many of the marine animal deaths.