About 70 gray whales have washed up on the shores of western North America this year, which is the most since 2000, according to the Associated Press. US government scientists announced on Friday (May 31) that they have launched an investigation into why this is happening, reports Reuters.
Many of the whales are emaciated and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) calls the deaths an “unusual mortality event,” according to Reuters. “Many of the whales have been skinny and malnourished, and that suggests they may not have gotten enough to eat during their last feeding season in the Arctic,” agency spokesman Michael Milstein told reporters during a conference call, according to the AP.
In an average year, about 35 whales wash up onshore in the US, although in 2000 more than 100 whale bodies were found, reports the AP. “The sea ice has been changing very quickly over the last decade or so,” biological oceanographer Sue Moore of the University of Washington tells the AP. “The whales may have to shift to other prey, such as krill or other things they eat.” Since 2000, researchers have set up a network of volunteers to report and respond to whale deaths, Deborah Fauquier of NOAA tells the AP.
The whales may travel into place they aren’t normally found in search of food. “We are seeing lots of live gray whales in unusual areas, some of them clearly emaciated, trying to feed,” says biologist and gray whale expert John Calambokidis of the Cascadia Research Collective to Reuters.