‘Unusual Mortality Event’ Declared as Grey Whales Appear on West Coast Beaches

May 31, 2019 Updated: May 31, 2019

VANCOUVER — The American federal agency dedicated to ocean science has declared an “unusual mortality event” as the bodies of dozens of grey whales wash up on West Coast beaches in Canada and the U.S.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, known as NOAA, says that 70 whales have been found on U.S. territory from California to Alaska and five more have washed up on British Columbia’s coast.

Researchers examine the corpse of the gray whale entangled in crab-fishing gear.
Researchers examine the corpse of the gray whale which died after getting entangled in crab-fishing gear. (John Weldon, NOAA Fisheries)
An entangled gray whale washed up dead on the Long Beach Peninsula
A male gray whale entangled in line from a crab trap stranded on the Long Beach Peninsula in southern Washington about April 13. (John Weldon, NOAA Fisheries)

John Calambokidis, a research biologist with the Cascadia Research Collective, says it is early in the migration and the whales found dead represent a fraction of that number that actually die in the ocean.

This year’s figures are the highest since 2000, when the bodies of more than 100 whales were found.

The declaration of the event triggers a scientific investigation into the whales who migrate annually between the waters off Alaska and Mexico.

The whales population was severely reduced because of commercial whaling, but it now numbers around 27,000, although they are still listed as a special concern under Canada’s Species At Risk Act.

humpback whale slaps its tail
A humpback whale slaps its tail on the surface of the water off the shore of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, on March 8, 2008. (Issei Kato/Reuters)