Published: Tue, May 09, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Dead whales along the coastline prompt federal investigation

Dead whales along the coastline prompt federal investigation

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared during a press call Thursday that the 41 humpback whale deaths in the a year ago stretch from ME to North Carolina, and is an unusual amount.

Greg Silber, Large Whale Recovery Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, said many factors could have caused the whales to move closer to shipping routes, but there hasn't been a spike in ship traffic.

Since January 2016, there have been 41 humpback whale deaths reported along the East Coast between ME and North Carolina, representatives with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday during a press conference call.

North Carolina had the highest number of stranded humpbacks, including 5 in 2016, and a total of 6 dead already in 2017. Their estimated population along the East Coast has increased from fewer than 2,000 four decades ago to between 10,000 and 13,500 today, which last fall resulted in the population segment being de-listed from the federal Endangered Species Act.

Humpback whales are colliding with boats, but what is causing this behaviour? In each instance, the agency was unable to determine the cause of death. According to CNN, a UME is "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response".

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He said the whale was about 35 feet long. However, the agency said it would begin a formal investigation into the mortality event and conduct further necropsies, so those conclusions could change. Of the 41 dead whales, 20 have been examined. Fauquier thinks that there is a hidden threat that affects humpback whales. They displayed evidence of blunt force trauma and deep cuts in their bodies from propeller blades.

In addition to the minke whale that died after landing on Orchard Beach on Sunday, whales washed ashore in Queens on January 13 and April 4. They are still considered protected animals.

Scientists say that the humpback population in the northern portion of the Atlantic Ocean is between 10,000 and 11,000. In some cases, it can lead them to beaches instead of deep waters.

Thurman said that one of the recent dead whales was found at the Port of Wilmington entangled in fishing gear, she said. In 2005, a UME was declared involving humpbacks and other large whales, but humpback whale deaths reached only six during that year.

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