Three dead grey whales have washed ashore on Haida Gwaii, just off the northwestern coast of mainland B.C.
Their discovery means more than 60 grey whales have been found beached and dead along the West Coast between California and Alaska this year, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Fisheries and Oceans Canada says two other grey whales were previously found dead in B.C. — one near Victoria and another on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
It says marine mammal experts are on Haida Gwaii working to determine the whales’ causes of death.
The DFO has completed necropsies on four of the whales found in B.C., however, it says it wasn’t possible to conduct one on the fifth whale because its body was too decomposed.
The grey whale (eastern North Pacific population) is classified as being of special concern by the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada, according to the DFO.
Grey whales are currently migrating from their wintering waters near Mexico along the coast up to Alaska, and as they’ve travelled along their route, more and more carcasses have been washing up on beaches
Dead whales recently examined by the NOAA have been found to be malnourished.
Grey whales feed on small crustaceans that live in sediment on the ocean floor, which brings them closer to shore than other types of whales. Their proximity to land means they are more likely to wash ashore and for their deaths to be noted.
CBC News spoke with Jessie Huggins, stranding co-ordinator for the Cascadia Research Collective last month who says a combination of overpopulation and a food shortage could be the underlying cause for the increase in deaths, however, more research needs to be conducted.
“It’s difficult for us to tell at the moment, but we do know that, for the last year or two, there have been a number of very skinny whales,” Huggins said.
“They didn’t get enough food last summer and… are just not able to make it all the way to Alaska.”