Grey Whales Dying In
Record Numbers On
Migration North
By Terri Theodore
The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER (CP) -- Grey whales are dying in unprecedented numbers on their migration route to the Bering Sea from the Baja Peninsula.
The migration period for the greys along the west coast of British Columbia doesn't even finish until the end of June.
But already seven grey whales have been found dead on beaches in the province.
That's a small portion of the total so far along the continent's west coast, with almost 150 greys in total being discovered, including 60 in Mexico, 60 in California and 16 in Washington state.
Grey whales have been in the public eye lately because they have been hunted by the Makah tribe of Washington state.
Late last month, the Makah managed to harpoon and shoot a female grey, despite protests from environmental groups that had been trying to impede the hunt.
Ed Lochbaum, marine mammal co-ordinator for the federal Fisheries Department, said "there is no doubt several of these big animals are running out of gas, the question is why?"
There are a number of theories, including low body weight and environmental stress.
"The problem could also be with the climate in the Bering Sea where the whales feed," said Lochbaum.
Grey whales gorge themselves during their summer in the North, but fast on their migration to and from Mexico.
Lochbaum has noticed that "whenever these whales come inside the Georgia Strait, there seem to be more deaths."
He said the increased spottings of dead whales could simply be because it's easier for people to see them in inside waters.
When they migrate on the west side of Vancouver Island, there are plenty of coves where a dead whale would never be spotted.
Scientists are doing tests on samples taken from many of the dead whales, but it will be two to four months before they have answers and a possible cause of death.
The grey whale population is estimated to be about 26,000 and the species is no longer considered endangered.
Healthy whales normally live to 60 years of age.