Last year, a high number of humpback whales had died. On April 27, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) opened up an investigation analyzing the large number of deaths among humpback whales from Maine to North Carolina. Researchers at the agency declared all these deaths represent a strange mortality event, being the first one which was identified in humpback whales in the last decade.
- NOAA specialists identified a high number of dead humpback whales in 2016.
- They opened up an investigation to establish why all those 41 whales died.
- Some of them indicated that they had been hit by vessels.
The unusual mortality event (UME) is known to be an unexpected stranding event which involved a major marine animal population die-off. UME was defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Specialists who determine UME need to report the problem as soon as possible and try to find solutions. Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer for NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, claimed that the last UME for humpback whales occurred in 2006.
Back in 2003 and 2005, two other similar events were reported. Last year, approximately 40 whales died in the area. Based on the data provided by the NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources, 14 whales per year indicate the 16 year average for this region, starting from 2000 to 2015. Nevertheless, until April 24 this year, 15 whales had already died.
Mendy Garron, a Stranding Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, argued that last year, 20 out of 41 dead whales were examined so far. Apparently, 10 out of those 20 which were examined appear to have been hit by marine vessels, and those accidents seem to have caused their deaths. Garron pointed out that the bodies indicated evidence of blunt force trauma.
Statistics have indicated some vessel strikes were registered in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, New York and Virginia. Greg Silber, the Large Whale Recovery Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, stated that there are many factors which should be considered when thinking about the high number of dead humpback whales. These whales might have approached the vessels from some reasons when they got hit.
He also argued that these vessel accidents might have been linked to prey sources. Humpback whales usually follow their prey, and they might have identified accumulations in particular areas towards which the vessels were heading. NOAA’s investigation will consist in analyzing data collection and monitoring habitat conditions to trace the causes of all those deaths.
Image source: flickr