In an average year, an estimated four to five gray whales are expected to wash ashore in the Bay Area. Since 2019, there have been more than two dozen. This uptick, which has been happening along the entire Pacific coast of North America, led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare the mass die-off an unusual mortality event (UME) and launch a formal investigation into the cause.
As one of the investigation's state representatives, Academy Senior Collections Manager Moe Flannery is helping lead efforts to collect data from each stranding to determine cause of death and, ultimately, what can be done to protect the beleaguered species.
But it’s not only gray whales that the Academy is helping to protect. In 2015, after a notable uptick in the number of threatened Guadalupe fur seals washing up onto Bay Area beaches, the Academy response team alerted NOAA who declared a UME for the species, thus mobilizing additional resources to investigate the strandings.
Similar efforts in the past from the Academy and other members of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network have successfully led to policy changes in San Francisco Bay, although more research and advocacy is needed.