The Story Behind This Picture Is So Mysterious, Scientists Are Scratching Their Heads

What is going on here?!

The National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Administration recently released this image, which has been taking the internet by storm:

There are seven bears eating the carcass of a dead whale that has washed up on shore of the Gulf of Alaska, near Canada. 

It's an incredible image, to be sure. As bears are so much larger than humans, it seems odd to see them absolutely dwarfed by the whale. People don't generally have a good size reference for whales, so seeing how large they really are is really pretty astounding. Most people sadly only get to see whales when they have washed up onto the beach, as in this case.

Unfortunately, whales are getting beached more and more frequently in this area, and scientists aren't sure why.

While it's not uncommon to see a stranded whale on a beach, the number has skyrocketed. Thirty whales spanning at least four species have been found on Arctic beaches in 2015 so far, about three times higher than scientists typically expect to see.

"NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners are very concerned about the large number of whales stranding in the western Gulf of Alaska in recent months," Dr. Teri Rowles of the NOAA said in a release. "While we do not yet know the cause of these strandings, our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live. Members of the public can greatly assist the investigation by immediately reporting any sightings of dead whales or distressed live animals they discover."

Alaska's sheer size and terrain are part of what is making it difficult to determine the cause of death of these animals.

It's hard for scientists to gain access to some of the more remote coastlines in Alaska, so bears and other predators typically get to the carcass before researchers can. This makes it hard to collect good samples or identify signs of trauma that could give clues as to how these enormous, gorgeous animals are dying in such high numbers. 

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