Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Prompted by the fatal stranding of 70 gray whales on the U.S. West Coast this year, federal scientists have launched a major scientific investigation aimed at identifying the cause or causes of the die-off among the migrating mammals that number about 27,000 and are a popular North Coast attraction in places like Bodega Bay.
A young gray whale that washed up last week on Limantour Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore was the 15th recorded stranding in the greater Bay Area.
An additional 78 strandings have occurred in Mexico and Canada, bringing the five-month total to 148 deaths of Eastern North Pacific gray whales.
NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency charged with protection and conservation of marine mammals, said the trend warranted declaration of an “unusual mortality event,” unleashing funding and resources for an investigation that could take months or years to find answers.
Deborah Fauquier, a NOAA veterinary medical officer, said Friday the declaration was justified by an unexpected and significant die-off that “demands an immediate response.”
An investigative team of experts from the United States, Canada, Mexico and possibly worldwide will be formed to “determine what might be causing the die-off, such as environmental conditions, disease or human activities” and “make informed decisions to protect this important marine species,” she said in a teleconference with reporters.