Teri Frady, NOAA
NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center
N E W S
NOAA Fisheries Investigates Marine Mammal Deaths in Maine Waters
The event focuses on seven minke whales that were recovered or photographed dead between August 10 and October 2, as well as approximately forty harbor seals found dead from Pemmaquid to Saco Bay between early June and early October. Although found at different times, some of the seals were recovered in general proximity to the locations where minke whale carcasses included in the event were sighted.
“It certainly appears that the minke deaths may have something in common,” said Greg Early of NOAA Fisheries, the onsite coordinator for the Maine investigation. NOAA Fisheries is the federal agency charged with protecting and recovering the nation’s seal and whale populations, and whose authorities govern investigation of unusual mortality events such as these.
“The seal deaths are related to one another owing to the size and overall condition of the carcasses, in addition to the numbers being about twice what we would expect for observed deaths this time of year,” said Early, “which would typically be sickly, thin, young-of-the-year seals. These carcasses have generally been apparently robust adults.” Both seals and minke whales are included as part of the unusual mortality investigation because they feed on similar prey and were discovered in roughly similar places as one another.
Biological samples were obtained from three of the minke carcasses and six of the harbor seals. These are being analyzed for naturally-occurring biotoxins, viruses, or evidence of disease or injury. Samples were also taken from the carcasses of one humpback whale and one beaked whale that were retrieved off Maine as the minke deaths were being investigated. Those samples are also being tested, although the two mortalities may not be directly linked to the unusual mortality event.
All seven minke whale carcasses were photographed, and three were more extensively examined by response teams. Of the seven, four had what could be wounds and/or abrasions. “We are still evaluating the data, but at this time we don’t have enough information to figure out how or when these marks or abrasions occurred,” said Early.
NOAA’s Office of Fisheries Enforcement and the Maine Marine Patrol are investigating to assist in determining the cause of the deaths. Anyone with information about purposeful harm to these or other marine mammals can call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline: 1-800-853-1964. All calls are confidential.
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