More than 160 dead gray whales have washed up on the Pacific Coast this year, including onto beaches in Canada, Mexico and Alaska, and scientists estimate that they represent just 10 percent of the total number of the dead, with the rest sinking into the sea. In Washington, officials have run out of public beaches for the huge carcasses to rot, and have asked for owners of private beaches to volunteer space.
This could end up being the deadliest year for gray whales since 2000, when 131 were found on U.S. shores. Many of this year’s victims have been malnourished, according to David Weller, a research wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Southwest Fisheries Science Center, in La Jolla, California. That could be because of unusually warm temperatures in the northern Bering Sea last year, says Sue Moore, a biological oceanographer at the University of Washington, in Seattle. This results in less of the type of algae that amphipods (shrimplike crustaceans) eat, which in turn lowers the food supply for the whales.