Over the past four months, 33 large whales have been reported dead in the Western Gulf of Alaska, which encompasses the areas around Kodiak Island, Afognak Island, Chirikof Island, the Semidi Islands and the southern shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula. The significant die-off of whales has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), marking the first large whale UME ever in Alaska.
The majority of the deceased humpback, fin and gray whales have been found moderately to severely decomposed and scientists have only been able to obtain samples thus far from one fin whale. Alaskan citizens have been instructed to call the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network hotline immediately if a stranded or dead whale is spotted to ensure the fastest response possible by trained experts.
“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,” says Dr. Teri Rowles, Coordinator of the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Program. “The most critical thing for this UME, given it is large whales, is our ability to get to the animals, document them, and if possible perform sample collections either at sea or on the beach if they are stranded. It is critical that the public and mariners report large whale mortalities or animals that they see in distress as soon as possible so that the Network can either document, access or track the carcasses.”
Full article: Increase in whale deaths in the Gulf of Alaska (Santa Monica Daily Press)