The US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has deemed the deaths of minke whales along the east coast last year an ‘Unusual Mortality Event’ (UME).
UME, the designation for an occurrence involving a significant die-off of any marine mammal population has spurred a federal probe, NOAA Fisheries announced Wednesday in a teleconference with reporters.
The investigation will span along the East Coast, from Maine to Florida, as NOAA has responded to a total of 29 incidents involving minke whales along that area.
Ten minke whales were found stranded ashore, alive but in poor health. Another 19 were found stranded and dead. Of the 10 found alive, only one survived. Six of the minke whales were found in Maine waters, eight in Massachusetts and seven in New York, according to NOAA.
Nine of the whales appeared to have died after becoming entangled in fishing gear. Eight died from infectious diseases, with investigators yet to determine how the mammals became sick.
The past two years have been deadly for whales in the Atlantic Ocean’s northwest region. Since January 2016, 62 humpback whales have been discovered dead or in distress on the East Coast. Since January 2017, 18 north Atlantic right whales have been found dead off the East Coast or Atlantic Canada. Investigations into the deaths of these two species of whales were also opened by NOAA last year.
“We’re still going through the analysis of what might be the cause,” Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Program Coordinator for NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources, Teri Rowles, said of the minke whale deaths, Bangor Daily News Outdoors reported.
However, Rowles added that the “mortalities we’ve observed so far are not considered a threat to the population’s sustainability,” according to BDN Outdoors.
As the minke whale now joins the NOAA’s other two whale investigations, officials said they have found no direct correlation between the deaths of the three whale species. Respective investigating teams, though, are sharing information, BDN Outdoors reported.