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Scientists ‘Perplexed’ by Spate of Fin Whale Deaths in Alaska

posted: 06/19/15
by: Danny Clemens
Fin whale carcass in Alaska
NOAA

Researchers and government officials are searching for answers after at least nine dead fin whales have been spotted in the water near Alaska's Kodiak Island in recent weeks.

State officials "rarely see more than one fin whale carcass every couple of years", says University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Kate Wynne. The first whale was spotted on May 23, and additional whales have been spotted in the water in the weeks since. Only two carcasses have washed ashore.

Fin whales are known to feed in tight groups -- the most promising theory right now is that a group of whales consumed a lethal toxic substance. Experts are currently conducting a biotoxin analysis one on of the beached carcasses to determine if it consumed any dangerous substances.

"There is a network of interagency people working together to collect as much information as possible on the whales," added Wynne. "We are mapping and tracking reported whale carcasses, collecting water samples to look for harmful algal blooms and recording changes in sea water temperature. So far there is no 'smoking gun' in this environmental mystery."

The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It can be found in all major oceans, and was heavily hunted during the twentieth century. Experts estimate that roughly 100,000 of the whales remain in the world. The 90-foot baleen whale is the second largest mammal in the world, second only to the blue whale.

Researchers are calling upon the public to report further whale sightings. Click here for more information about reporting a whale carcass sighting

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