Why do dolphins and whales beach themselves?

Shutterstock.com/Bastiaan Schuit

Few things in nature are more devastating than the sight of a shuck of whales; some of the most intelligent and magnificent creatures on the planet, lying helpless and dying on the beach. Stranding of whales occur on large scale in several parts of the world. Scientists are searching for the answers that could unlock this mystery.

Researchers have figured out that a single dolphin or whale may strand itself due to illness or injury, swimming close to shore or getting trapped by the changing tides. While whales are creatures that are highly social and even travel in communities called pods, stranding on large scale may occur when healthy whales refuse to abandon an injured or sick member and follow them into shallow water.

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Dolphin strandings are less common than whale strandings that occur on large scale. Among whales, deep-water species such as sperm whales and pilot whales are more likely to strand themselves on land than any other whale species such as orcas/killer whales that swim closer to the shore.

Are whale strandings a reason of navy sonar?

The most tenacious study about the whale stranding cause is that something interrupts with their system that helps them navigate in the sea, making them lose their bearings, stray into shallow water, and end up on the beach.

Government researchers and scientists have linked the low-frequency and mid-frequency sonar used by navy ships, such as those operated by the U.S. Navy, to several strandings as well as other deaths and major injuries among dolphins and whales. Navy sonar emits intense underwater sonic waves that are very loud sounds and can retain its power across a few hundred miles.

Evidence of how dangerous sonar might be for marine mammals emerged in 2000 when four different species of whales stranded themselves on the Bahamas beaches after the United States’ Navy battle troop sent out mid-frequency sonar in the area. Initially, the Navy troop denied responsibility, but a government investigation concluded that Navy sonar caused the mass whale strandings in the area.

Possible reasons that are shown for the disruption of dolphin and whale navigation include:

  • Weather conditions
  • Diseases (such as viruses, and other brain diseases)
  • Underwater seismic activity (sometimes called seaquakes)
  • Magnetic field anomalies
  • Unfamiliar underwater topography

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