The carcasses are being examined of whales that have been found dead this month on both Atlantic coasts—one off Boston, in the U.S., and two more off England. Though the cause of these deaths remains unknown, they coincide with a new report that says most whale deaths in the northwest Atlantic Ocean since the 1970s have been human-caused.
A study conducted by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts studied 1,762 whale deaths and fatal injuries that occurred between 1970 and 2009, LiveScience.com reported. Fishing-gear entanglement was the top killer, taking 323 whale lives, LiveScience.com said, quoting the study that appeared in the journal Conservation Biology. Another 171 were struck by vessels, and 248 died of non-human-related causes, the research team found. With cause of death known in 750 of the cases, 67 percent of the deaths were determined to be related to human activity.
The injuries to the Boston Harbor whale were consistent with being tangled up in fishing equipment, the Boston Globe reported. While a recent resurgence in the populations of right whales off New Brunswick, Canada, was credited to a change in shipping-lane location in the Bay of Fundy, the researchers in the current study did not see significant changes in fatalities from ship strikes.
"So far, regulatory efforts have not reduced the lethal effects of human activities to large whales on a population-range basis, although we do not exclude the possibility of success of targeted measures for specific local habitats that were not within the resolution of our analyses," said the study authors in their paper, as quoted by LiveScience.com.
Researcher Michael Moore, who conducted the study along with Julie van der Hoop, noted that success to the journal Nature and said that instances such as that one were significant but not big enough to show up in the larger-scope study.
Meanwhile authorities on both sides of the Atlantic are grappling with the question of how to dispose of the huge animals. In Massachusetts the finback whale, whose 70-foot body was spotted floating in Boston Harbor on Sunday October 7, washed up on Rainsford Island, an 11-acre national park that American Indian tribes fished from before contact, according to the National Park Service. The island lacks a dock, making recovery and disposal difficult, the Boston Globe said.
Across “the Pond” a week earlier, two whales washed up on Great Britain’s shores, BBC News reported. A 33-foot-long juvenile fin whale with few visible injuries beached off Suffolk, on England’s eastern shore, on October 1. On the same day, off East Yorkshire farther north, a young female Sowerby’s beaked whale, about 11 feet long and weighing half a metric ton, showed up offshore with massive injuries and had to be put down after an eight-hour unsuccessful rescue attempt, British authorities told BBC News.
The Zoological Society of London was examining both bodies, BBC News said, adding that authorities were considering using the fin whale's body as biofuel.