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Over the course of the last several months, the number of grey whales washing ashore along the West Coast has been staggering. Grey whales typically make their spring to summer migration up and down the coast with minimal casualties, however something seems to have gone horribly wrong this year.
Unfortunately, researchers remain unsure of what is causing the whales’ increased mortality rates. 167 grey whales have been found dead onshore from Alaska to Mexico since January but scientists say that the whales onshore only reflect a small number of the animals that died. Up to 90% of deceased whales will either sink, float offshore, or otherwise go undocumented.
A research wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in La Jolla, CA, Dave Weller, says, “if we can access a dead whale in time, we can look for evidence of disease, viruses, malnutrition, or human causes such as collisions with ships.” Scientists up and down the coast have been performing as many autopsies as possible which have provided vital information.
Most of the whales show signs of malnutrition. Some whales appeared to have starved to death. Others had eelgrass in their stomach, indicating the desperate consumption of a substance that they normally do not ingest. The whales fill most of their nutritional needs in Alaska, so scientists are searching for clues there. They have noted that it’s possible the population has simply grown larger than their food source, but more information is needed to establish a definitive cause.