Scientist believe they’ve pinpointed why a large number of fin and humpback whales died this year off the coast of BC and Alaska.
Professor Andrew Trites is the Director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at UBC.
He says many theories such as ship strikes, entanglements, starvation, radiation, military exercises, and plastics have been ruled out, leaving only one common denominator.
Trites says that’s the diet of the whales.
He says toxic algae blooms thrived in the unusual warm water blob in the Pacific Ocean, and they essentially gave the whales food poisoning.
Plankton eat the toxic algae, which are then eaten by krill, which in turn are eaten by the whales.
Small plant eating animals get eaten by larger predators up the food chain, passing on the toxin.
Sea lions along the California coast have been seen observed with this poisoning, which can cause brain damage and seizures.
The impact along the remote Central and North Coast might be more widespread than we know, since many of the smaller animals affected by the toxin may not be noticed.
With the oncoming cooler weather, the warm ocean blob and the algae should be dissipating, and the last reported whale washing ashore was in August.
But Trites doesn’t rule out this becoming a re-occurring event, given the state of climate change where 1 in 500 year events are now occurring much more often.
He adds, this year’s deaths shouldn’t hurt the rising fin or humpback whale populations, but if the event consistently reoccurs then it could have a negative impact.
Humans shouldn’t be at risk, as Trites says shellfish are the most commonly consumed species by people that can get the toxin, but adds they’re well monitored.