Tag Archives: fin whale

What Was Behind the Mysterious Whale Deaths on the Pacific Coast in 2015?

Since May, more than 30 whales have been found dead on the pacific coast without explanation.

11 fin whales, 14 humpbacks, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans were found dead in the western gulf of Alaska. Six more whales were found dead off the coast of British Columbia including four humpbacks, one sperm and one fin whale.

The unknown cause behind the deaths prompted the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare it an “Unusual Mortality Event” last month. But after investigation, scientists think a widespread algae bloom located off the coast could be suspect in the deaths. NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle told the Guardian:

“Our leading theory at this point is that the harmful algal bloom has contributed to the deaths. But we have no conclusive evidence. The bottom line is we don’t know what’s causing these deaths.”

Scientists have already been monitoring a large stretch of warm water that started out off the coast of Alaska two years ago and has grown to almost 500 miles across. “The Blob,” as it has been named, is several degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean and has caused a record algae bloom spanning the West Coast from Alaska to California.

Photo by NOAA
Photo by NOAA

However, the fast rate of decomposition makes it nearly impossible to sample the dead whales, meaning there may never be a definitive conclusion. Scientists do know of one species of phytoplankton that produces a neurotoxin, which enters the food chain in smaller fish and birds, can cause disorientation and fatal seizures in severe cases.

Although the death count is almost three times the historic average annual mortality rate, whale populations are not overly affected. Marine mammal specialist with the Alaska Sea Grant marine advisory program and on-site coordinator of the UME investigation Bree Witteveen tells Yahoo Canada News:

“From a population perspective, the level of deaths that we’ve seen are not likely to have much of an impact. It’s more of a warning sign.”

Featured image by Sarah Nichols / CC BY-SA 2.0

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With Our Planet’s Melting Arctic Comes New Threats to Whales

Climate change is the latest accomplice to whale hunting: as temperatures rise and sea ice melts, it opens more paths for people to find and kill whales.

This summer marked the first time that an Icelandic whaling vessel was able to travel through the Arctic’s Northeast Passage and hunt endangered fin whales. Near record-low numbers of sea ice opened the passageway, which is not normally accessible to larger vessels.

Ignoring an international ban on hunting these endangered whales, the vessel carried 1,800 tons of frozen fin whale meat to sell in Japan. It left Tromso, Norway on August 1 and arrived in Osaka, Japan later that month with almost 40% of the whale meat the entire country consumes annually in just one shipment.

This is a detrimental in several ways. First, a northern route will allow whaling vessels a shorter path to Japan, their main buyer. Second, it raises concerns for activist groups like Sea Shepherd who focus mostly in the Indian and Southern Oceans and can’t expand north.

Sea Shepherd’s founder Captain Paul Watson told TakePart:

“We are talking with the Russians to see if we can convince them to disallow future transports of whale meat through the Northeastern passage.”

Photo by NOAA PMEL / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by NOAA PMEL / CC BY-SA 2.0

Featured image by Dagur Brynjólfsson / CC BY-SA 2.0