The government has run out of places to put all the dead whales washing up on the West Coast; is asking private homeowners to let them rot on their beachfront properties
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is overwhelmed by the striking number of dead whales that have washed up along the West Coast of the United States in the last six months.
So far, 171 dead gray whales have been found beached along the Pacific Coast of North America, and NOAA expects that number to continue to grow over the next several months.
The number of whales washing up on continental beaches is only a fraction of the real death toll, the agency adds, as many wash up on remote islands or decay at sea.
85 of those whales have washed up in the U.S., from California to Alaska. 78 have been found in Mexico, 8 in Canada.
It’s the biggest mass stranding event in 20 years.
Scientists say the massive mammals appear to be starving to death, possibly because their food sources are vanishing in dramatically warmer waters triggered by climate change.
Figuring out what to do with the beached behemoths has troubled coastal populations for decades, the New York Times reports:
“States have tried burying them on beaches, dumping them in landfills, sinking them at sea, and on one notable occasion that was caught on camera, blowing them up with dynamite, which sent rancid chunks of whale raining down on spectators.”
These days, researchers try to move the whales to places where they can conduct necropsies and then leave the carcass to decay naturally, but the state of Washington is running out of places to let that happen, especially in the Puget Sound.
So NOAA has resorted to asking private landowners to volunteer their properties to let the 40-ton whales decay, a process that can take up to a year, with a stench that can be smelled for miles.
So far, about half a dozen Washington residents have volunteered.
Gray whales were removed from the federal endangered-species list in 1994. Over the next six years, the population dipped to about 16,000, but has since rebounded to about 27,000, according to NOAA.
Their population may be recovering faster than their food supply, the agency has said of the emaciated animals.