According to biologists, it is not unusual to lose some whales during the spring migration season. They say there should be no concern over 8-10 dead whales, but Puget Sound is already up to six. Five gray whales have washed up recently at locations like Sammish Island, West Seattle, and Deception Pass.
In addition, a warm-water tropical Bryde’s(pronounced Broodus) whale washed up on a beach near Olympia back in January. There was no food found in its stomach and its blubber layer was very thin.
Indications are that whales are starving to death as a result of various elements affecting the animal’s food source.
The world’s ocean ecosystems are stressed due to climate change, floating garbagedumps, dead zones, and ocean acidification.
On Thursday, March 11, the Center for Biological Diversity announced a settlement with the EPA on ocean acidification.
“This settlement marks a crucial step toward combating ocean acidification with our nation’s strongest water-quality law, the Clean Water Act,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “We already have the legal tools we need to limit ocean acidification, and the Clean Water Act has a history of success reducing pollution.”
Nearly every marine animal studied to date has experienced adverse effects due to acidification.
“Ocean acidification is global warming’s evil twin, and CO2 pollution is one of the biggest threats to our marine environment,” said Sakashita. “We need prompt action to curb CO2 emissions to avoid the worst consequences of acidification.”
In addition, whales face injury and death from boat propellers and attacks from resident killer whales.
“We are trained to look for human interaction. Every so often we do get animals brought in to the sound on the front of a container ship or ship strike -- run over by a boat," said NOAA Fisheries biologist Kristin Wilkinson.
However, the recent whale deaths, including the Bryde’s, while demonstrating old scars, seemed to have been caused by slow starvation after entering the Sound looking for food. Necropsies will be performed on the recent beached whales, and scientists want to wait for the results, but physical signs point to malnutrition.
Gray whales are filter-eaters, which mean they have a baleen or whale bone that acts like a sieve, when they scoop up sand sediments from the ocean floor to capture small sea animals, amphipods, and crustaceans.
Similarly, Bryde’s whales feed on plankton and krill, but will also eat smaller schooling fish like anchovy, sardine, and herring.
There is reportedly little dispute that changes in the world’s oceans are affecting the bottom of the food chain for larger marine life.
Are the changes in ocean temperature and chemical composition causing whales to wander far outside their normal range?
“We know there are long-term cycles which occur in the ocean environment and long-term changes are occurring due to climate change, but it’s hard to say this one animal is part of that,” said John Calambokidis, biologist with Cascadia Research, after examining the Bryde’s carcass.