Since January 2016, a surprisingly number of humpback whales has died along the Atlantic Coast. Six deaths have been recorded in recent months along the Delmarva Peninsula or Chesapeake Bay. At total of 41 humpback carcasses have washed ashore between Maine and North Carolina, which is three times more than the average along that stretch.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries department, two of those were discovered in Maryland waters.
Researchers believe the deaths may be due to the humpbacks following fish they feed on to areas where they are exposed to increased shipping traffic, but it is unclear why.
The large-whale recovery coordinator for NOAA fisheries, Greg Silber, told reporters on Thursday, “It’s probably linked to resources.”
“Humpback whales follow where they prey is,” Silber says.
Twenty of the dead whales have been inspected and the cause of death for half of those appears to be the result of impact with a ship or its propellers, according to the investigating biologists. On average, one or two humpbacks die between Maine and Virginia from impacts with ships each year.
The increase humpback deaths near the Mid-Atlantic is causing alarm, with six deaths in North Carolina waters and five in Virginia waters in less than five months.
According to NOAA, one badly decomposed, 30-feet long humpback with no tail or skin was discovered in Maryland near the Ocean City area in 2016 and one so far this year.
This week, NOAA fisheries declared an “unusual mortality event,” which is a designation that is trigged when an increase in marine mammal deaths are observed. The event calls for a formal investigation, involving the collection and analyzing of data, along with increased monitoring of alterations to the humpbacks’ natural environment.
After being listed as an “endangered” species in 1970, the humpback whale has since been delisted. Scientists discovered that there were a total of 14 distinct populations of humpback whales worldwide, rather than one global population and all those groups are doing very well.