Thursday, 29 October 2015

What was killing the young right whales? New research finds a suspect

Study links mysterious deaths of right whale calves to harmful algal blooms

Date:October 26, 2015
Source:NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

The baby whales suddenly began dying in 2005. And continued for several years running.

Scientists had never seen anything like it around Peninsula Valdes, an important calving ground for southern right whales on the coast of Argentina, or anywhere else for that matter. The average number of right whale deaths per year at Peninsula Valdes jumped more than 10-fold, from fewer than six per year before 2005 to 65 per year from 2005 to 2014.

Even more striking, 90 percent of the deaths from 2005 to 2014 were very young calves fewer than three months old. The mystery killer appeared to be targeting the nearly newborn, sometimes more than 100 calves of the endangered species each year.

Now researchers have closed in on a prime suspect: Blooms of toxic algae, the same kind that sometimes force the closure of clamming and other shellfish harvesting.

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