"Unusual mortality event" of 30 whales declared by NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has termed 30 dead whales in Alaska waters an “unusual mortality event,” and dedicated resources to investigating the ultimate causes.

The administration, or NOAA, defines an unusual mortality event as a “a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of a marine mammal population, and demands immediate response.”

Large whale strandings since May have been three times the national average, according to NOAA data. 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale, and four unidentified cetaceans have stranded around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska and the southern shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula

The declaration allows for increased resources for the problem. NOAA scientists say they plan to step up their investigation on the causes, which are as yet unconfirmed. Marine mammal and seabird deaths have been suspected of a connection to a toxic algae bloom moving into the Gulf of Alaska, but tests and sampling not yet presented evidence linking the two. 

"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, NOAA Fisheries' marine mammal health and stranding response coordinator, in a press release. “Members of the public can greatly assist the investigation by immediately reporting any sightings of dead whales or distressed live animals they discover."

NOAA will be collaborating on the study with partner groups from the state, University of Alaska, and the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

11/20/2016 - 9:21am