Some 30 large whales have been found dead in the western Gulf of Alaska since May and the NOAA wants to know why. The agency says it is opening a scientific investigation into what is calls an "unusual mortality event," with the number of whale deaths at three times the historical average for the area, reports the AP. The NOAA describes the event in a release as "a significant die-off" involving 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale, and four unidentified whales. A rep suggests the deaths could be tied to algae bloom toxins, but there's no evidence for that yet. The NOAA notes the investigation could take months or even years.
Officials have only been about to nab a sample from one of the 30 whales and it was labeled "less than ideal," reports the CBC, which notes the sample contained no presence of one strain of algae toxins. Getting to more whales is difficult: Parts of the coastline can be tough to get to, floating carcasses are hard to access as well, and beached whales can be magnets for bears, a coordinator says. Scientists will thus study environmental factors, historical data, and deaths among seabirds and other creatures to help shed light on the issue. "Our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live," the coordinator says. Researchers will also work with colleagues in British Columbia, where five large whales have been found dead this month; necropsy results on two are pending. (Read more whales stories.)