Gray whales continue to wash up dead and emaciated, but causes remain elusive. Are they victims of a mystery disease? Or are they victims of something else entirely?
As summer approaches, the beaches and water of southern California become more enticing for the gray whale, and the whales become bolder. They’d rather not get caught in beach chairs or umbrellas than risk being swept into the Pacific.
The whale is doing its best to avoid beach life.
But we know otherwise: there is a very good chance that gray whales are dying in a mystery disease affecting populations of whales and dolphins all over the world.
And, as a team of scientists led by Dr. David Moore, of the University of California, Davis, has just found, the cause of death is not what scientists suspected.
It’s a disease called karyatid dyskeratosis, or karyosporosis in the scientific literature. And with karyosporosis comes an array of deadly diseases affecting other marine animals.
In fact, we now know that an epidemic of this disease has killed more than 700 of the world’s marine mammals, including dolphins, whales, and sea otters—including dozens of California gray whales.
Now we have evidence that karyosporosis is also the cause of the California gray whale deaths. But we don’t know what caused the karyosporosis—until we have a better understanding of how this disease is spreading.
Karyosporosis is caused by the karyovirus that produces a deadly disease that affects coral, corals, and other marine animals. It’s called karyosporosis because the coral it is most likely to affect is the karyospora palmata coral. These coral colonies are commonly found on the shores of California’s San Francisco Bay, in the waters surrounding Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties, as well as in Baja California, Mexico, where the disease first emerged.
We don’t know yet what triggered the disease, but we know it has been around for a very long time.
The first report of the California gray whale karyosporosis occurred in the 1960s, in the Pacific Northwest. That’s in the era when gray whales were beginning to show up in