Gray whales continue to wash up dead and emaciated, but causes remain elusive and no one is certain how many remain and how many more live.
“The great majority of the carcasses are in good condition,” said Steve Shephard, spokesman for the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, which has been leading the project. “We are still finding them. That’s the frustrating part. But we will be there. We have to be.”
The project, which has been around for 12 years, is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is part of the Commerce Department. It is also supported by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which issues permits for whale watching. These permits ensure that a whale observer is not operating in such a way as to cause a collision or a disturbance that would make it impossible for another whale to swim safely close to the one being observed. The project also receives support from public donations and donations from whale watching tour companies.
The whale watching industry is so dependent on whales that in the past year, the whale watching industry has increased its annual operating costs by more than 4 percent. In 2007, the U.S. whale watching industry was estimated to earn $1.5 billion in whale watching fees and provided services to 9.5 million households.
“This is one of those issues that is incredibly difficult to solve,” said Shephard. “There’s obviously a lot of money at stake.”
The carcasses are not the only part of the problem. Since 1982, the whale watching industry has been banned from operating in the waters off the coast of Hawaii, California and Oregon. According to Shephard, this is because of the public’s concern over whale watching and the likelihood that any whale watching vessel that passes close to a whale is likely to provoke one into a self-detonation.
“We do believe that any whale that approaches another whale will provoke it to self-detonate,” said Shephard. “We believe it is not only irresponsible for whale watchers to go near a whale, but it is irresponsible for