NOAA: whale deaths “alarming”

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 10:00am

A spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the agency is aware of the humpback whale that washed ashore on Block Island this past week, adding that the number of whale deaths throughout the eastern shore since early 2016 is “alarming.”

“Yes, we are aware of it and right now it will be considered part of the unusual mortality event,” said Jennifer Goebel, Public Affairs Officer for NOAA out of Gloucester, Mass, of the whale that washed up at Ballard’s Beach. “It will be part of that investigation to see what is causing all these deaths” 

In these instances, Mystic Aquarium sends a team to take samples from the whale carcass, which will then be tested.

“They take all kinds of information: life history, size, length, and anything externally and internally” to determine the cause of death, Goebel said. “It depends on the decomposition of the whale to see how much they can sample. Then they’ll take it to the lab to find the illness or injury.” Goebel said there are not many labs that perform this kind of work, so waiting for results could “take several months.” Goebel said that Mystic Aquarium was in the process of forming a plan to come out to test the carcass.

“We do consider the whole situation alarming. That’s why we declared the unusual mortality event. There are a lot more (deaths) than usual and we’d love to know why,” said Goebel.

The beached humpback whale was found at Ballard’s Beach sometime between Monday, Oct. 2 and Tuesday, Oct. 3. It does not appear to be the carcass of the humpback whale that was found beached at Mohegan Bluffs a little less than a month ago, as that whale had tests performed on it by a team from Mystic Seaport.

NOAA called a “declared unusual mortality rate” for whales beginning in April 2016 for an area stretching from North Carolina to Maine, which is still ongoing. Some people in New England are claiming that the existence of the five turbines comprising the Block Island Wind Farm are contributing to the unusual mortality rate, while NOAA said it has not yet found any link between the deaths of the whales and the unusual mortality rate.