Whale deaths on the rise in Alaska

[USA] American scientists have reported a sharp increase in the number of dead whales found in the Gulf of Alaska. From May through August, 30 whales washed up alongthe coast of Alaska.

Scientists say there may be a connection between theanimalsdeaths and warming waters. They say the Arctic is getting warmerfaster than any place on the planet.


Deborah Fauquier is a marine mammal scientist at NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She wants to learn why so many whales have died this year.

“And the average for the whole year generally is eight. So it is definitely asignificantly elevated (level) and for us that was a reason of concern.”

She says scientists have formed some ideas about what caused the deaths.

“We might be able to, you know, figure out ‘is it a virus?’ ‘Is it,’ you know, ‘aship strike?’ ‘Is it a harmful algal bloom?’”

Algae are simply plants or plant-like organisms. Most algae are safe. Butscientists say the less-common toxic alga can cause brain damage or evendeath. In June, the largest alga bloom in more than 10 years was seen alongthe Pacific coast, from California to Alaska. Scientists say it grew big becauseof warm water and sunny, calm weather. The alga bloom forced officials toclose fishing areas in several states.

Deborah Fauquier says scientists will look for evidence of the harmful alga in the whales.

So some of the whales actually filter the phytoplankton and the zooplankton,which are the little insects that eat the grass in the sea, basically. So, they getthe toxins through that method. The other one is that they eat the fish that eatthose. So it just depends where on the food web they eat and as you gohigher up the food web, more toxin gets concentrated.”

The waters around Alaska began warming in 2014. The water temperaturecontinues rising. It is now three degrees Celsius warmer than normal.

Scientists blame the weather event known as “El Nino” and wind patterns for the warming. The scientists say the warming is not linked to climate change. But industrial gas emissions are warming the planet. They are causing theArctic to warm faster than anywhere else.

At the beginning of the melt season, Arctic sea ice was at its lowest level everrecorded. Mrs. Fauquier says that is a problem for marine mammals. Polarbears and walruses, for example, live and breed on the ice and use it as aplace from which to hunt.

“For Arctic speciesspecies that normally like cold water — it is going tochange the phytoplankton, so it’s going to change the base of the food web. It is going to change the fish. They may go farther north because they don’t likewarm water. And so then the predators that are mobile are going to have tofollow those fish or if they can’t follow them, then they can starve.”

Mrs. Fauquier says NOAA hopes to learn why so many whales died. Shesaid knowing the cause is the first step to understanding how to solve theproblem


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