Featured Image Credit: insideedition.com
By: Laura O’Brien
When cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) strand or are found dead, experts try to determine what caused the incident. Sick, confused, or deceased cetaceans can be a sign of serious environmental problems; so determining the cause for the issues is highly important. A dead humpback whale washed ashore in this November in Virginia Beach, so experts convened to determine its cause of death. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have declared an Unusual Mortality Event that is characterized by a series of dead humpback whale sightings on the East Coast of the United States. The event has been going on since a whale washed up in January 2016. Since then, 57 more whales have been found dead.
Experts were able to perform a necropsy on the whale that washed ashore in late November, which will help shed light on the event. NOAA’s website states that as of April 2017, about half of the 42 whales that had washed ashore at that point had undergone necropsies. Unfortunately, many whales that are found have decomposed too much to transport. At that point, half of the necropsies found evidence of trauma caused by boat strikes. That rate is unusually high, which indicates that steps need to be taken to avoid boat strikes on the East Coast.
Although the whale that washed ashore in November did not have outward signs of such trauma, the necropsy did not produce immediate results. Tissue samples may shed some light on what happened to the whale, but it may take months to get the lab results and come to any conclusions. The six-ton whale was only a juvenile, so we hope that some explanation is found for her untimely death.
NOAA’s Humpback Atlantic Coast UME page lists numbers to call if you see a stranded whale on the East Coast. In North Carolina, call 877-433-8299 and from Virginia to Maine, call 866-755-NOAA.
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