Volunteers team up for an ocean-side necropsy after another gray whale washes up dead

Another dead gray whale washed up on Kodiak late last week, this time near Surfers Beach. A team of volunteers, led by local veterinarian Dr. Emily Iacobucci and NOAA Fisheries Special Agent Brent Pristas, headed out the road on Saturday morning to begin a necropsy on the specimen.

It was a labor-intensive process involving hours of stripping blubber off the male gray whale with long carving knives and gaff hooks, and collecting samples of as many tissue types as they could.

Dr. Emily Iacobucci measures the tail of a gray whale that washed up on Kodiak last week. (Photo by Kavitha George/KMXT)

Gray whales have been found stranded all along the West Coast in recent months, prompting the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to declare an “unusual mortality event,” for the marine mammals. More than 171 gray whales have been found dead from Mexico to Alaska this year, with at least 15 of those in Alaska alone.

It’s not clear what is causing the whale deaths, though scientists have speculated that climate change could be a factor. Another possible cause is that the Pacific habitat the whales live in has reached its capacity — essentially it’s maxed out on the number of gray whales it can sustain. Iacobucci and biologist Matt Van Daele both commented that the whale appeared to be on the small side, with a thinner layer of blubber than they would normally see. According to NOAA, several of the whales stranded so far have also shown signs of emaciation, but it’s not a consistent finding, and so “more research is needed.”

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