Scientists are trying to figure out why so many gray whales are dying.

Photo: Justin Sullivan

An alarming spike of grey whale deaths along the US West Coast has prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare the deaths an “unusual mortality event.” This designation means that the deaths required greater scrutiny and allocation of more resources to determine the cause. As the Independent reported, “at least 70 dead grey whales have turned up on the US West Coast in 2019, many of them emaciated. The number is the highest recorded since 2000.

Why This Matters: Human activity is causing the Arctic to rapidly warm and we’re just beginning to experience the ramifications. More species are coming under threat and we’re going to have to curb our emissions if we don’t want mass die-offs (like what’s happened to puffins recently) to become regular events. We have to take immediate and decisive action to protect our oceans as they’re at a breaking point.

Whales Just Keep Dying: In the past several weeks grey whales have washed up in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties in California much to the dismay of locals and scientists trying to determine the cause of their deaths. In 2018 about three dead marine mammals washed up dead on West Coast beaches and so far this year the average has spiked to 15 such animals a month. 

Justin Viezbicke, NOAA’s California Stranding Coordinator told the San Jose Mercury News that “there have been juveniles but adults as well. There have been males and females. It’s been all across the board at this point.

No One Knows Why the Whales Keep Dying: As Reuters explained, many of the dead whales who have washed up “have little body fat, leading experts to suspect the die-off is caused by declining food sources in the dramatically warming waters of the northern Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea off Alaska.” Another theory is that grey whales are reaching their capacity and cannot reliably find food.

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