- On 1 December 2022, 22 large whales washed up on the US Atlantic coast, including three vulnerable or endangered species.
- NOAA is investigating a seven-year-long unusual mortality event, with 40% of necropsied whales showing evidence of human interaction.
- Unusual winds, tidal patterns and ocean currents, as well as climate change, could be contributing to the strandings.
- The increase in whale population has been linked to the unusually high number of strandings.
- NOAA is urging people to be mindful of the whales and their environment, and to report any sightings of stranded whales.
Unusually High Number of Whale Strandings
On 1 December 2022, the US Atlantic coast saw an unusually high number of whale strandings, with 22 large whales washing up on the shore.
Of the five species stranded, three are considered vulnerable or endangered: North Atlantic right whales, sperm whales and sei whales.
Humpback whales and North Atlantic right whales are the species most commonly stranded on the US Atlantic coast, with the former accounting for the bulk of strandings.
Investigation into Unusual Mortality Event
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been investigating the seven-year-long unusual mortality event, but notes that this number of deaths so early in the calendar year is abnormal.
Of the 178 humpback whale deaths that NOAA has investigated as part of the unusual mortality event, around half underwent necropsies, with 40% showing evidence of human interaction.
Unusual winds, tidal patterns and ocean currents can increase the chances that whales will become stranded on a beach, and such changes could be exacerbated by climate change.
Some have blamed the unusually high mortality events on the noise created by surveying equipment for offshore wind turbine installations, though NOAA says there is no evidence to support the claims.
Increase in Whale Population
The food source for humpback whales is increasing, leading to them hanging around their feeding grounds for longer than usual, which puts them in the path of a major shipping route.
Whaling bans and fishing regulations have allowed humpback whales to balloon from around 400 individuals in the 1980s to more than 80,000 today.
This increase in population has been linked to the unusually high number of strandings, as the whales are more likely to be in the path of ships and other human activities.
NOAA is continuing to investigate the cause of the strandings, and is urging people to be mindful of the whales and their environment.
The agency is also encouraging people to report any sightings of stranded whales to their local authorities.