Science | August 15, 2020 6:30 am

Marine Mammals Are Dying Off at an Alarming Rate

A new study reveals some unsettling numbers

Whale bones
The remains of dead marine mammals can be found on beaches across the world.
gailhampshire/Creative Commons

Climate change, a massive pandemic and authoritarian governments around the globe — right about now, there’s a lot to be genuinely concerned about when considering the future of the planet and of humanity. But if you’re looking for further evidence to summon an encroaching sense of doom, a new article at Smithsonian Magazine offers plenty to be concerned about. Specifically, marine mammals are dying off, and the pace at which they’re doing so is alarming.

The article, by Bradley van Paridon, focuses on a study headed by wildlife epidemiologist and immunologist Claire Sanderson. It suggests that, between 1955 and 2018, one-sixth of all marine mammal species have experienced a die-off. The culprit, according to the study, is infectious disease. Perhaps most alarming are the areas of this study where things remain unclear:

… Sanderson found that climate change and warming sea surface temperatures are associated with outbreaks. However, she believes that we have yet to fully grasp the cascading effects that climate change and other anthropogenic disruptions will have on marine environments. The ocean is a vast and highly interconnected environment, making it difficult to predict or even quantify the damage from a mass mortality event, says Sanderson.

One contributing factor to the die-offs: the tendency of marine species to be social, which can create an easy way for diseases to spread throughout a population. Does this mean that we’re about to see a mask-wearing awareness campaign spread throughout the whale and dolphin communities? It probably wouldn’t hurt.

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