Whales Dying In Alaska, NOAA Researchers Searching For Clues

Whales are dying in Alaska at a shocking rate, according to NOAA investigators speaking with CNN. The Gulf of Alaska whale deaths have baffled investigators. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers declared the 30 deaths the first “unusual mortality event” for large whales ever designated in the state.

British Columbia authorities have also reportedly experienced an unusual amount of whale deaths recently. The whale deaths in Alaska have been accompanied by a series of widespread deaths of murres – a bird species which inhabits the Alaska Peninsula.

Since 2010 less than 15 “large whale strandings” were reported in the Gulf of Alaska area. Samples from the area are being collected for testing for the presence of viruses, biotoxins, bacteria, and algae.

“Biotoxins will be one of the top priorities, but not the only priority that we’ll be looking at to rule in or rule out whether it’s playing a role in this death investigation and these mortalities, both in Canada and the U.S.,” NOAA Fisheries scientist Teri Rowles said during an interview with the Alaska Daily News.
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The carcass of one large Alaska whale has been tested to help determine a possible cause of death. NOAA staffers also noted that the corpses of many of the other whales had been floating in the water for quite some time and could not be retrieved. The investigation into the whale deaths could take months, or possibly even years, according to agency officials.
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The whales dying in Alaska situation happened while a “major” algae bloom materialized and stretched from central California to Washington. NOAA staffers feel the waters off Alaska could have been negatively impacted by the algae bloom. An increase in mortality events of marine mammals and other vulnerable and endangered species typically suggest “something unusual” is happening.
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NOAA has reportedly recorded 61 such unusual occurrences since 1991. Almost half of the unusual mortality increases since 1991 have reportedly been traced back to human interactions, biotoxins, infections, or malnutrition. NOAA Fisheries in Alaska representative, Julie Speegle, said a harmful and toxic algae blooms is the working hypothesis in the whale deaths case, according to a Daily Mail report.
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Speegle also said that there is no conclusive linking the dying whales to algal bloom toxins at this time. NOAA researchers also noted that biotoxins deaths from algae blooms are responsible for a vast number of the recent group animal death patterns.
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[Image via: Shutterstock.com]
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