A wave of dead or dying gray whales washing up on the coast of the American West Coast from New Year's Eve causes great concern among scientists – with the Bay Area claiming to be the thirteenth victim on Thursday.
The newest carcass was found yesterday afternoon in Point Reyes National Seashore, near Limantour Beach, and became the 54th gray whale being washed this year.
According to scientists, the majority of whales seem to die dead – and die at a speed seen only once before, in 2000, when 86 whales were found dead at the end of May.
A dozen more of the large mammals have been spotted, swimming near the shoreline with typical signs of malnutrition. Observations from mother-calf pairs have also decreased drastically.
A 13th gray whale was found dead Thursday afternoon in Point Reyes National Seashore, near Limantour beach
It was the 54th dead or dying gray whale on the west coast washed ashore since the New Year
The mortality rate among the creatures is likely to be considerably higher, as it is estimated that only 10% of dead whales end up on the coast.
This could mean that as many as 530 whales have died since the turn of the year, marking a significant dent in the total population of the gray whale, which is believed to be around 20,000.
Gray whales had only recently seen a revival in their population figures, after they were hunted on the brink of extinction at the end of the 19th century.
The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito has teamed up to the area to look for the victim's carcass on Thursday, where, if recovered, they perform a necropsy to determine the specific cause of death of the creature.
& # 39; This is an unusually high number of whale deaths that we see here in our region, but also up and down the entire west coast – all the way to Alaska. This is a little disturbing, & # 39; director of veterinary science at the center, Shawn Johnson said to the LA Times.
& # 39; Usually we only see 10 whale deaths (in the Bay Area) in a whole year. & # 39;
Since 530 whales have died since the New Year, this marks a significant dent in the total population of the gray whale, which is believed to be around 20,000
(pictured: a dead baby gray whale shown on May 15, Pacifica Beach, CA)
Any necropsy discovery can help conservationists determine the cause of rising numbers of deaths and collect samples to understand the dangers of the remaining population.
The center believes that grays have trouble finding food because of the greenhouse effect, which has caused ice caps to melt at a rapid pace and to warm up the ocean temperatures.
The environmental shift has put the huge animals in a remarkable & # 39; bad condition & # 39; Johnson said.
& # 39; Biologists studying this population discover that when the whales arrive in Mexico, they are already underweight and then go for months without foraging. So many of these whales are trying to go back to Alaska and they are not making it – they don't have the energy to make it, & he said.
For now, scientists say they remain uncertain about the direct causes of the wave, but malnutrition seems to have played an important role.
Scientists think that grays have problems finding food due to the greenhouse effect, causing ice caps to melt at a rapid pace and the ocean temperatures to become warmer (photo May 15, Pacifica State Beach, CA)
Experts advise that anyone who discovers a carcass should maintain a safe distance of 50 feet and alert the authorities immediately (pictured May 6, Ocean Beach, CA)
And they say that they have also seen a trend in malnutrition in other species, including the California sea lion, which they think is caused by a disturbance of the environment.
The observations of the grays themselves have increased this year, as they are making their annual northern migration this spring, from Mexico to feeding areas along the Alaskan coast.
Typically, one or two gray whales would be sightings that pass beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at this time of year – however, this season experts have already seen five that entered the bay at the same time.
Johnson recommends that anyone who discovers a carcass should maintain a safe distance of 50 feet and notify the authorities immediately.
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