In the largest stranding event ever recorded, 337 whales were beached on a remote fjord in southern Chile’s Patagonia. Scientists discovered the whales during an observation flight, but haven’t been able to examine the carcasses up close yet due to the roughness of the seas. Researchers are relying on aerial photography and satellite images to discern as many details as possible about this startling mass die-off.

Without examining the whales directly, scientists can’t be certain what species they are because the bodies are severely decayed, but the whales’ size and location leads experts to believe they are sei whales, according to lead scientist Carolina Simon Gutstein of the Universidad de Chile and Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales in Santiago. Sei whales are an endangered species usually found in deep waters far from coastlines.

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Along the shoreline between the Gulf of Penas and Puerto Natales, toward the southern tip of the continent, scientists have identified 305 bodies and 32 skeletons of beached whales. The discovery was originally made on June 23, and Gutstein and her team have been working since that time to learn more and determine a cause of death. The Chilean government has also launched an investigation since whales are protected there.

In April of this year, 30 sei whales were found beached near the same area. Red tide – a massive bloom of toxic microorganisms – was blamed for that die-off, but Gutstein is hesitant to jump to any conclusions without further details. She says the team is “planning on going back there in the summer to try to study them more closely.”

Via National Geographic

Images via Wikipedia