NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service has declared the death of 30 whales along Alaska's southern coast as an "Unusual mortality event" late last week, as marine biologists continue looking for a cause.

The 30 whale strandings since May of this year are about three times the average for the area, the western Gulf of Alaska. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is aware of 14 humpback whales, 11 fin whales, a gray whale and four unidentified members of the cetacea infraorder that have stranded in the western Gulf of Alaska over the last few months.

NOAA Fisheries and its partners are "very concerned" about the high number of whale strandings in the area, stated Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries' marine mammal health and stranding response coordinator. 

"While we do not yet know the cause of these strandings, our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live," Rowles said. "Members of the public can greatly assist the investigation by immediately reporting any sightings of dead whales or distressed live animals they discover."

By declaring the strandings "an unusual mortality event," NOAA Fisheries can begin to collaborate with state, tribal and federal officials to create a course of action for dealing with the phenomenon and, hopefully, putting and end to whatever is causing the uptick in strandings.

NOAA and its marine biologists will work with the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network to get to the bottom of the events.

"Biotoxins will be one of the top priorities, but not the only priority that we'll be looking at to rule in or rule out whether it's playing a role in this death investigation and these mortalities, both in Canada and the U.S.," said Rowles to the Alaska Daily News.

But it could take quite a bit of time before a conclusion is reached.

"These kinds of investigations generally require months, or sometimes even years, of data collection and analysis, depending on the nature and duration of the event," NOAA stated. 

NOAA intends to publish its findings on the Unusual Mortality Event website, as information becomes available.

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