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2016-2017 Humpback Whale Unusual Mortality Event along the Atlantic Coast

Floating whale offshore of Delaware.
Photo credit: Marine Education, Rehabilitation and Research Institute

Since January 2016, elevated humpback whale mortalities have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine through North Carolina. A table of stranding numbers by state is below.

This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME).

Humpback Whale Strandings by State
  DE MA MD ME NC NH NJ NY RI VA Total
2016 3 3 1 2 5 1 2 4 2 3 26
2017 (thru 4/24) 1 0 1 0 6 0 2 1 0 5 16
Total 4 3 2 2 11 1 4 5 2 8 42

Partial or full necropsy examinations were conducted on approximately half of the whales. Of the 20 whales examined, 10 had evidence of blunt force trauma or pre-mortem propeller wounds indicative of vessel strike.

Report a stranded or floating whale

The most important step members of the public can take to assist investigators is to immediately report any sightings of live whales in distress or stranded, or dead whales. Make the report by calling the Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 866-755-6622, the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-433-8299 or contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.  Again, do not approach or touch the whale.

2016 and 2017 humpback whale stranding locations along the Atlantic Coast
(through April 24, 2017
)

Why are whales stranding?

A portion of the whales have shown evidence of pre-mortem vessel strike; however, this finding is not consistent across all of the whales examined so more research is needed.

As part of the UME investigation process, an independent team of scientists (Investigative Team) is being assembled to coordinate with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events to review the data collected, sample future whales that strand and to determine the next steps for the investigation.

Dead stranded humpback whale showing evidence of pre-mortem propeller injuries.  
Photo Credit: Virginia Aquarium

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Updated: April 28, 2017