Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Increased Number of Whale Beachings Has Scientists Alarmed

Photo by NOAA via Flickr CC via Treehugger.

In the last few years, there has been an unexplained spike in the number of whales washing ashore. While the National Marine Fisheries Service has declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, it's more than just oil spills that are causing increased strandings worldwide. And experts are worried.

The numbers of beached whales have been gradually rising, peaking in 2009 with 46 whales coming ashore, and The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC)is conducting an investigation into what could be causing the rise, reports ABC news.

It could be anything from nutrition issues to sonar that drives whales off course, disorients them, or can even cause internal damage. While there has been a rash of strandings in Florida, including at least 15 pilot whales that washed ashore this week in the Florida keys, experts are quick to point out that the BP gulf oil spill is a possible cause, but not the only factor. Earth Times points out that, "A number of recent strandings in other regions happened well before the Deepwater spill occurred. In March 2009, 194 whales and a small dolphin pod became stranded on the coast of Tasmania, and most did not survive. The previous November, 150 pilot whales died in another mass stranding in Tasmania... In February 2011, 107 whales died on the coast of New Zealand."

NOAA provides this chart of whale strandings in the Gulf of Mexico, showing the marked increase:

Photo courtesy: TreeHugger.

ABC News goes on to say:
The DEC's Doug Coughran says the department is yet to work out exactly what is causing the strandings.

"We don't want to speculate too much, we want to look at it from a scientific perspective, we're entrusted with the protection of the animals in our waters," he said.

"We want to do our best to make sure we have our finger on the pulse to monitor these emerging challenges."

Mr. Coughran says wildlife officers will take samples from beached whales and investigate nutrition and other related possible causes.

So why are so many more whales becoming stranded on shorelines? Experts are befuddled, and it could be a broad range of factors.

Via Treehugger

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