Seven dead gray whales were discovered on Alaska shores over the Fourth of July weekend — and experts say the climate crisis is to blame, according to a new report.
Four of the whales were discovered near Kodiak Island, two in the city of Egegik and another at Takli Island — raising the death toll for gray whales in Alaska to 22 this year alone, CNN reported.
Alaska isn’t the only place where the whale carcasses have recently turned up — they’ve been recovered all along the west coast of North America, from Alaska to Mexico — raising concerns for marine biologists, according to the report.
Back in late May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an unusual mortality event for the mammals.
“We have already exceeded the 1999 number of gray whale mortalities along the U.S. West Coast, including Alaska,” NOAA public affairs officer Julie Speegle told CNN in an email. “In 1999, there were 91 gray whale mortalities (including 12 in Alaska). So far in 2019, the total for the U.S. West Coast (including 22 in Alaska) is 96. Only time will tell if we will approach the numbers for 2000 (U.S. West Coast 131, including 45 in Alaska).”
An unusual mortality event is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.”
Gray whales migrate between 5,000 to 7,000 miles each way — with the eastern Pacific stock migrating north from late February to May, staying close to the coast from California to Alaska, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Each gray whale normally eats about 1.3 tons of food per day, and adults can reach 90,000 pounds.
Many of the gray whales that washed up were malnourished, and experts believe that they hadn’t been eating enough.
“Scientists theorize there may have been a disruption in the gray whale food source due to a lack of sea ice in the Arctic last summer,” Speegle told the network. “Gray whales fatten up during the summer by feeding on marine life, mostly amphipods off the ocean floor. But when sea ice melts and retreats (as it did last summer), there is a disruption in the food web that results in fewer amphipods for gray whales to eat.”
The mammals were on the endangered species list until 1994, when the population was successfully recovered, according to the NOAA.