Photograph: Matthew Savoca / Reuters
On Saturday, the giant, nearly 32-foot structure of a male humpback whale was found lying on the sand near Fort Bragg, California, the fourth whale to run aground off Mendocino’s coast this year.
The next day, a hunchbacked young woman was also found dead in the far north near Vancouver Island. She was known to scientists as “Spike” after being first documented in 2018.
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The death of the whales has raised alarm among the public as experts work to study the carcasses and determine how and why the giant migratory mammals ended up on these beaches. Although every death is a tragedy, they offer important clues and insights that allow scientists to better understand ocean conditions and increased risks.
As important parts of the ocean ecosystem with ranges extending for thousands of miles, whales are often seen as indicators of the health of the oceans. Unnatural deaths can serve as signals that something is wrong. Trauma caused by naval strikes is also often responsible for whale deaths.
But the mysteries aren’t always easy to solve, and the autopsy will take time.
As worried onlookers gathered around the beach-bound body north of Pudding Creek Beach in California on Sunday, researchers and volunteers got to work collecting samples to determine the cause of death. Samples of skin and fat were taken, along with the whale’s pelvic bones, which will go to the California Academy of Sciences, and parts of the baleen, the sieve-like threads that allow whales to filter and filter their food.
“Nothing obvious indicates a ship strike right now,” said Sarah Grimes, the Noyo Center for Marine Science at Mendocino Voice, even after a laceration was observed on the right side of the whale. Scientists will continue to examine the carcass for broken bones and bruises.
Ship collisions are a growing problem and a leading cause of death for endangered creatures that cross the waters frequented by large merchant ships.
“When ships travel rapidly through these areas, there is a high risk of collision, injury and death, as whales are often unable to get out of the ship’s path in time,” says the World Wildlife Federation on an information page. on the matter. The increase in the toll has even led ecologists to compare them to ocean “road deaths” in a study published in 2019.
Hundreds of miles north, scientists were also working to interpret the injuries on Spike’s body to analyze evidence of what may have killed the beloved whale. He had no apparent external injuries. Photos of her show her anchored in shallow water, stretched out by decay.
“We don’t know what caused her death,” experts from the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) said in an Instagram post, but adding that “it won’t be a surprise if it turns out she died of blunt trauma from the ‘being hit by a boat ”.
The organization added that Spike’s images were shared to tell locals the action was underway and also to educate the public about whales and what to do when they wash ashore. “The tragedy could lead to greater awareness, who to call, whatever conclusions can be drawn about the cause of his death,” the marine research firm said. The survey is conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Spike, named after the character from the animated classic, Land Before Time, had a dinosaur-like mark on the left side. She had been identified by MERS researchers, who track individual whales in the region to increase understanding of the majestic giants and encourage conservation.
“We feel the depth of emotion that comes from knowing these whales as individuals,” MERS researcher Jackie Hildering told the Canadian National Observer. But beyond the loss, she added, the important discovery will help generate public interest. Many whales that die and sink to the depths will not have their stories told.
“It is important for people to care for whales as individuals because this helps us evolve in understanding the impact of our actions on them as representatives of the ecosystem,” said Hildering. “Spike is an ambassador of his kind.”