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Dozen Whales Washing Up on Alaska’s Shores Prompts Investigation; Is Radiation from Fukushima the Cause?

( [email protected] ) Aug 21, 2015 06:41 PM EDT
Since May of this year, there have been dozens of whales washing up on the shores of Alaska.  This has led scientist to wonder what could be the cause, and some of them are looking at radiation form Fukushima.
What is the cause? KRON/Twitter

Since May of this year, there have been dozens of whales washing up on the shores of Alaska.  This has led scientist to wonder what could be the cause, and some of them are looking at radiation form Fukushima. 

According to the Huffington Post, many dead whales have been found washed up along the coast.  The death toll includes 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, 1 gray whale, and 4 unidentified cetaceans.  Last year, there was only five dead whales found. 

Dr. Teri Rowles, the marine mammal health and stranding response coordinator for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), is "very concerned about the large number of whales stranding in the western Gulf of Alaska in recent months". 

Rowles also added: ""While we do not yet know the cause of these strandings, our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live. Members of the public can greatly assist the investigation by immediately reporting any sightings of dead whales or distressed live animals they discover."  Unfortunately, scientists have only been able to study one of the 30 whale carcasses. 

The problem is that it is difficult to search the Alaskan coastline, and it is very difficult to reach in certain places as well.  There are also reports of six additional dead whales that have washed ashore on the coast of British Columbia, causing the Canadian authorities to work with NOAA to discover the cause. 

This is the first unusual mortality event for whales in the Alaskan area, and just the third of any kind in the state.  NOAA was alerted to similar events for sea otters in 2006 and then pinnipeds in 2011. 

Most theories on the whale deaths point to toxic algae bloom, which is caused by warmer than usual waters off of the West Coast.  Rowles said in a news conference that there's probably a change in the overall pathogen exposure, possibly harmful algal blooms as well as other factors.  The one sample was tested negative for a type of toxin produced by the algae, but the whale's carcass was decomposed and not very reliable. 

According to The Week, it is possible that radiation from Fukushima from the nuclear power plant resulting from the tsunami/earthquake in Japan could be causing the death of the whales.  NOAA says that is "highly unlikely", but it could take years to determine what is causing the death of these whales.  There is a map available on the Alaska Fisheries site that shows where the whale carcasses have been found. 

Those that find any whales washed ashore are encouraged to contact NOAA.  The Alaska Marine mammal Stranding Hotline is 877-925-7773, and it is possible to contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.  It is important to know that the agency is asking the public not to approach or touch the whale.