LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- There have been 31 dead gray whales on the West Coast so far this year. The alarming death toll already marks the third largest gray-whale mortality total on record. Twenty one of those gray whales were in California.
"Of the 21 in California, we've had three ship-struck whales in the San Francisco Bay Area. Two or three are in the Los Angeles harbor area," Justin Greenman of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
The carcass of a whale was found near the Port of Long Beach late last month. Given it's the season for whales to migrate through the West Coast on the their way North, the NOAA fears things could go from bad to worse.
"We're certainly concerned with the numbers we're seeing," Greenman said.
Greenman says along with the uptick in dead whales, they are seeing malnourished, skinny whales which he says could mean that since coming off the endangered species list some 25 years ago, their ballooning population is far outpacing their food supply.
"So many whales in our rebounding population - the food just can't maintain that population," Greenman said.
NOAA officials said that since the gray whales can't find their typical food source in deeper waters, they are migrating closer to shore on the West Coast looking for new food sources. That's a problem they must address. They say a similar dilemma cropped up nearly 20 years ago leaving nearly 90 whales dead - the worst on record.
"What we can do is try to decrease the compounding effects of vessel collisions and fisheries interactions with the whales," Greenman said. Four gray whales this year were hit by ships because they were in waters that people aren't used to seeing them in.
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