Editorial: At Our Doorstep

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It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to consider marine animal strandings, like that of a minke whale at Northwest Creek on November 21, as a form of communication.

After all, whales and dolphins speak to one another in their own respective languages, and they can navigate even in dark, murky water by using echolocation, with their own voices bouncing back to relay information about other underwater creatures and objects. Dolphins are believed to have distinctive whistles by which other dolphins can identify them as individuals, and scientists have found that different whale pods have different “dialects” to distinguish group members from non-members.

It’s hard to keep track of which types of magnificent sea creatures are presently undergoing an “unusual mortality event” — a series of unexpected strandings that indicates a significant die-off. In the Atlantic, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lists minke and right whales, humpbacks, and harbor and gray seals as currently undergoing an unusual mortality event. Infectious disease is blamed for the death of the 67 seals, but human interaction — in the form of boat propeller strikes and fishing net entanglement — is the cause of many if not all of the deaths of 65 minke whales, 64 right whales and 63 humpback whales that were recorded on the region’s beaches in the last year or so.

Into the mix we can also add sea turtles. Most species of sea turtles are endangered; when stranded, they are often found to have ingested discarded plastic or to have been entangled in fishing gear.

We will probably never see all the turtles and marine mammals whose lives end far out to sea rather than closer to the shore. When they do wash up at our doorstep, however, the message is clear: SOS.

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