The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is investigating why so many minke whales are stranding along the East Coast, the agency announced Wednesday.
They want to know why 29 minke whales have stranded between Maine and South Carolina from January 2017 to January 2018.
Of the 29 whales that NOAA and local stranding groups responded to, 10 stranded alive, while 19 washed up dead. Of the 10 that stranded alive, one was pushed off and released, NOAA said.
Twenty-four of the stranded whales were examined or documented and 11 of them showed signs of human interactions like blunt force trauma and interactions with fishing gear.
Suzanne Thurman, the executive director of Delaware’s Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute, said no minkes stranded in Delaware during the one-year period, but now that they’re the third large whale species declared in the last few months as dying at an alarming rate, she’s concerned.
"To have a third species added under an Unusual Mortality Event is very significant and it's very telling," Thurman said. "Whether there were any common denominators between the deaths of the three different species remains to be seen."
The uptick in strandings for all three species were declared “Unusual Mortality Events”, meaning they were unexpected and require immediate action. NOAA is still investigating die-offs on humpback and right whales that were announced in 2017.
“There’s so many factors negatively impacting their survivability and we really need to take as many precautions as we can to protect their habitat,” Thurman said.
Although the UME has been declared from Maine to South Carolina, NOAA said they’ll investigate the species from Maine to Florida because “the animals do transit that area as part of their normal biology and normal movement,” said Teri Rowles, a marine mammal health and stranding program coordinator with NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources.
Minke whales are the smallest of the three large whale species under the UME, and can be as long as 30 feet, Thurman said. Humpback whales can be 50 to 55 feet in length.
Minkes tend to be less social animals and often swim alone, Thurman said.
NOAA says if you see a whale stranded on the beach, to report it to 866-755-NOAA. You can also call the MERR Institute at 302-228-5029.