Gray whales continue to wash up dead and emaciated, but causes remain elusive
In late August, a pod of 40 belugas arrived at a beach in northwestern Canada, only to find that everything they brought with them was gone.
“They knew they were looking through a telescope,” said Mike Wilson, an associate professor of marine biology at the University of Victoria in Canada and a leading expert in the physiology of whales and their hunting strategies.
The whale was thin, but still had weight to its body, Wilson said. It also had a massive tooth missing from one of its upper molars. “Their stomach was full of whale oil but not the body of the whale,” he said.
“That’s a fairly typical whale for an animal coming from a northern feeding ground. We have observed this behavior often.”
Belugas — tiny whales that measure up to 6 feet long — travel between the Arctic and Antarctic to hunt seals, sea lions and other warm-blooded marine animals, leaving behind droppings of krill, whales’ main diet.
Scientists don’t know if the beluga’s disappearance was due to a natural cause, a hunting accident, or a food shortage.
“Whales are very resilient,” said Kevin Orem, a senior lecturer in marine sciences at Florida International University in USA. “They are constantly moving, sometimes thousands of miles a day.”
In 2005, a pod of belugas was found stranded on a beach in western Canada. Their stomachs had been partially devoured.
“There is no food for them in the water,” said Chris Lowe, a marine biologist at the University of Northern British Columbia in Canada. “They do a lot of travelling to meet their food.”
Another similar incident was reported two years ago by a group of researchers in the Alaskan state of Nunavut. They were in an area where seals were abundant and when they came across the remains of more than 100 beluga whales, some of which were floating around with their mouths open and stomachs exposed, they concluded that the animals were in a feeding frenzy.
“That was a very worrying moment,” Lowe said. “That’s always a first thought.”
But they soon found out they were wrong.
“We made a wrong call. These animals were not