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NOAA launches investigation to find cause of death for 70 stranded gray whales

In this image, a crowd stands around a large dead whale on a beach.
The 13th gray whale to wash up on a San Francisco Bay Area beach. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

At least 70 dead gray whales have washed up on the west coast this year, according to a statement made Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, ABC reports.

Why it matters: The death toll is higher than we presently know. These stranded whales represent only 10% of how many have actually died, per research biologist John Calambokidis. NOAA has launched a scientific investigation into the cause of the deaths, describing it as an "unusual mortality event."

Catch up quick:

  • 37 whales have beached in California, with more than 12 concentrated on the San Francisco Bay. Other locations include Oregon, Alaska and Washington.
  • Gray whale death rates this high have only been seen once, in 2000 — with the most stranded whales found in Alaska (45) and California (61).
  • There is a chance the gray whale population can rebound, if environmental and food availability conditions are right.

What they're saying: “It is very unusual. A normal year for us, we have maybe between one and three [dead] gray whales in this season. This is triple that already, in less than a two-month period," Chief research pathologist at the Marine Mammal Center Pádraig Duignan told the Washington Post, on stranded whales in California's Bay area.

The bottom line: Researchers are trying to determine if the cause of death is related to warming temperatures in the Arctic, other environmental factors, disease or human activities like ship strikes.

Go deeper: Climate change could make it harder for blue whales to find food