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Marine experts investigating humpback whale carcasses found off Cape Cod

30th July 2003

Associated Press

WOODS HOLE, Mass. (AP) A team of marine mammal experts were gathering data on Georges Bank Wednesday to determine the cause of death of several large whales whose carcasses were recently spotted in the area, about 200 miles east of Cape Cod.

Earlier this month, seven dead, floating humpback whales and one dead fin whale were found around Georges Bank in three separate incidents, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Three humpbacks were found July 3, about 160 miles off Cape Cod. A fourth was spotted July 23, north of the earlier sightings. Three more and the fin whale were found still farther north on July 28. There were no obvious signs of trauma on the visible portions of the carcasses, according to NOAA.

''This many adults, dead, in close proximity to one another is almost unheard of in the large whales without some kind of instigator,'' said Dr. Phillip Clapham, a NOAA Fisheries expert on humpback whales.
The only other case of a cluster of dead humpbacks in the last two decades was in 1987-88, when 14 animals stranded on Cape Cod between November and January. Clapham said those deaths were traced to food poisoning the whales had eaten fish with lethal levels of a naturally found algal toxin.

He said the recent deaths could have a similar cause, but more data was needed.

The team of investigators, aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, included experts from the Cape Cod Stranding Network, the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. NOAA Fisheries' whale aerial survey team provided air support.

Canadian fisheries officials were also involved, since a few of the dead whales were spotted north of the Hague Line, which separates American and Canadian waters in the Gulf of Maine.