Biologists are raising concerns after a young humpback whale was found dead just south of Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula.
John Calambokidis with the Cascadia Research Collective said the one-to-two-year-old female was first spotted Friday but washed up in Ocean Shores on Sunday.
He said a necropsy suggested the whale died after becoming entangled in crab fishing gear.
“Overall along the West Coast we’ve seen an uptick in entanglement-related death that spiked in 2015 and has remained elevated for the last few years,” Calambokidis told Global News.
“For the last four weeks this is now the second humpback whale that we’ve had entangled and we’ve had three other grey whales.”
Calambokidis said those numbers are likely a severe underestimation, as the majority of entanglements are unseen or unreported.
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The B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network says last there were at least 640 entangled whales reported in 2017, but just 12 of them were confirmed.
Humpback whales spend the spring, summer and fall feeding off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, before wintering off the coast of Mexico. Grey whales migrate along the coast to their feeding grounds in Alaska.
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Calambokidis said both populations have rebounded significantly since the whaling era, climbing at about seven per cent per year until recently levelling off.
Humpback whales were downgraded from “threatened” to “of special concern” under the Canadian Species at Risk Act in 2017 due to rising population numbers.
But with growing populations comes increasing conflict with humans and entanglements.
“So much of the goal of our work is to try to reduce these kinds of impacts, and it is tragic to see it because some of these kinds of deaths are particularly gruesome, and would involve a lot of suffering on the part of the animal,” Calambokidis said.
WATCH: Coverage of whale entanglements on Globalnews.ca
He said researchers and activists try to respond to entangled animals while they are alive, and that fishing industry has increased efforts to reduce whale deaths.
“Some of the government agencies need to get involved in this,” Calambokidis said. “There are measures in place that monitor this level of mortality that will trigger some precautionary measures in the future on this.
“But since we’re kind of in the early stage of reacting to this, the actions that have been taken to date clearly don’t seem to be adequate.”