The remains of so many grey whales have washed up on the US west coast this year that authorities are running out of places to bury them.
With nearly 80 grey whales left stranded along US coastlines since the beginning of January, local organisations have struggled to dispose of the huge animals, which can grow up to 12 metres.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA Fisheries) is having to ask landowners for their help to volunteer waterfront properties as a disposal site for the animals.
Officials hope landowners will be forthcoming with their properties, offering them the chance to support the natural process of the marine environment, The Guardian reports. The skeletons left behind can then be used for educational purposes, authorities said.
NOAA Fisheries said approximately 30 whales had washed up on Washington’s coast this year, the most in two decades. 37 have been left stranded on the Californian coast since January, while seven were found in Alaska, and a further three in Oregon.
The federal agency last month declared the die-off an ‘unusual mortality event,’ and assembled an independent team of scientists to look into the deaths and determine the next steps for the investigation.
Officials said most of the whales had little body fat, leading them to suspect the die-off is the result of declining food sources in warming sea waters.
As per the NOAA:
Full or partial necropsy examinations were conducted on a subset of the whales. Preliminary findings in several of the whales have shown evidence of emaciation.
However, the agency continued to say these findings ‘are not consistent across all of the whales examined,’ and so more research is needed.
The die-off could also be due to rising numbers of grey whales, with one theory suggesting the animal’s population has reached the limit of the environment’s capacity to sustain it.
Backing this up is the current population of eastern North Pacific grey whales, which is 27,000 – the largest number since surveys began in 1967, biologist David Weller states.
Keep in mind that carrying capacity is not a hard ceiling, but that it’s a shifting threshold. In some years or period of years the environment is capable of supporting more whales than in other years.
The last ‘unusual mortality event’ for grey whales was in 1999-2000, which was believed to be caused by ocean warming due to an El Nino climate cycle.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).