A surge in humpback whale strandings in Western Australia is believed to be linked to the poor nutrition of the animals, veterinary researchers said Wednesday.
Autopsies of the mostly calf and juvenile carcasses found the whales were malnourished, Murdoch University researcher Carly Holyoake said at a veterinary conference in Perth.
"Post-mortem examination and analysis of the fat content of blubber samples revealed most calves were in an extremely malnourished state," Holyoake said.
"Most had very low blubber fat, which is required for energy, thermoregulation and for buoyancy.
"One individual also had pneumonia which would have made it difficult to breathe and may have contributed to its death."
While there were about two to three humpback whale strandings annually on the west Australian coast between 1989 and 2007, there was a sharp rise in 2008 to 13, the researchers said.
Strandings then soared to 46 in 2009, with a further 16 whales beachings themselves in 2010, while 2011 saw 17 humpbacks -- of which 14 were calves and three were juveniles -- dying ashore.