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Scientists hunt for whales' killer

Canadian Press
Aug. 02/03

   YARMOUTH, N.S. - Scientists are investigating the discovery of 17 dead whales found floating in waters off southwestern Nova Scotia in recent weeks.
   The carcasses of mostly humpback and finback whales have been appearing in Canadian and U.S. waters, in the Gulf of Maine, for the the last month and a half.
   The latest whale was found Thursday.
   "All indications are ... that it's some sort of toxic issue, and we have to determine exactly what that is," Jerry Conway of the federal Fisheries Department said Thursday.
   "We're collecting samples to see if they can be analysed to see if there's some toxins."
   Mr. Conway said officials are also collecting fish and shellfish to determine if there's anything in the water column causing the whales' demise.
   On Tuesday, a U.S. fishery patrol encountered four dead whales - three humpbacks and one finback.
   "We've had reports in the last month and a half of dead whales around the Scotian Shelf," Mr. Conway said. "When you add them up, we come to a total of 17."
   Two whales were found Wednesday, and then the latest Thursday.
   The fisheries patrol vessel Sir William Alexander was in the area conducting fishery enforcement patrols.
   "We had them diverted to go to the whales and to assess what the situation was," Mr. Conway said.
Two fisheries officers aboard the ship set about collecting blubber and skin samples. They also took photos for scientists to view in hopes of finding some clues.
   A U.S. vessel from Chatham, Mass., is also on the scene, carrying two scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
   There's been no obvious signs of trauma on the animals.
   Mr. Conway said there's no indication yet of any human-related cause in the deaths.
   The huge mammals were not in heavily travelled commercial shipping corridors but areas frequented by fishing vessels.
   None of the whales were found entangled in gear.
   The whales identified so far all feed on pelagic fish, such as herring, mackerel, capelin and the noncommercial sand lance.
   If the fish these whales had been eating are somehow contaminated, scientists want to know if humans might be at risk.
   In 1987, there was a die-off of marine mammals from Cape Cod all the way down along the New England shore.
   It was attributed to paralytic shellfish poisoning, or red tide, that was found in mackerel.

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