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Die-off of Large Whales Continues in Gulf of Alaska

Posted by feww on October 1, 2015

Dozens of whales found dead in Gulf of Alaska

At least 34 large whales including humpback, fin and gray whales have been found dead around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska and the southern shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula since May 2015.

NOAA declared the recent deaths an unusual mortality event (UME) in August. An UME is a stranding event that is unforeseen, involving a significant die-off of a marine mammal population, and demanding immediate response.

“NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners are very concerned about the large number of whales stranding in the western Gulf of Alaska in recent months,” said Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries’ marine mammal health and stranding response coordinator.

“Large whale UMEs are the most difficult UMEs to deal with, principally because the animals are floating and rarely beached and we have a difficult time getting to the carcasses to actually examine them.”

Biotoxins cannot be ruled out, despite one sample testing negative, Rowles added. “It’s my understanding that sea surface water and air temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska have been high, and that always concerns us because that means there’s probably a change in overall pathogen exposure—possibly HABs and other factors.”

“It takes a fair amount of time to pull data together even if the event is over, and a lot of deliberation and analyses have to happen in order to determine what’s going on,” Rowles said. “It could be quite a period of time before we actually have an answer, if indeed we end up with a definitive answer for this UME.”

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