Although it is a naturally occurring event, there has been a dramatic increase in reported sperm whales strandings since the beginning of 2016 in the United Kingdom and European shores. While an event of this nature is of course mournful, it does leave us questioning how and why there seems to be a sudden surge of whales becoming marooned on our coasts.
While the Sperm Whale is considered to be the most intelligent of sea creatures on the planet, experts in the field are determined to put the blame for these landings on the whales themselves, placing particular emphasis on their search for food and their need to find a mate. Of course, any mammals natural instinct is to both feed and reproduce but if we pull the human factor into the equation, we can assume partial blame for the total of twenty nine beached sperm whales that have washed up in Europe since the 12th January this year.
The lure of food may have led to this particular group of males unwittingly entering the North Sea, however it is regarded as an unusual habit and one that some experts have suggested is down to climate change; warmer seas have undoubtedly led to the migration of prey into different waters, and it just so happens that the North Sea is somewhat shallower than what the Sperm Whales themselves need to manoeuvre and communicate effectively. Sperm Whales begin to feel disorientated as the North Sea becomes narrower and shallower, they quickly become distressed, exhausted, and communications with the group become laboured as the whales try to navigate the unfamiliar territory. Before the whales even land on our sands, they are already in a considerable amount of cardiovascular discomfort, and there is simply nothing that can be done to save them.
Sperm whales strandings – maybe seaquakes are to blame?
Leaving climate change behind, another interesting and proven concept as to why there seems to be a history of group whale beach strandings lies in the wonders of the natural world. Studies into this have discovered a direct link between earthquakes or, more specifically, seaquakes, and Sperm Whale beach landings. It’s an eerie correlation that cannot be ignored, and is certainly a plausible explanation as to why these intelligent and aware creatures lose their sense of direction and why their naturally inbuilt navigation systems are thrown into chaos.
This more recent occurrence of mass whale beach landings in Europe has been linked to a magnitude five seaquake in the North Atlantic, just along the Mid Ocean Ridge. While a magnitude five quake would cause minor to moderate damage on dry land, the effect of the same measurement recorded under our great oceans would be somewhat catastrophic to marine life and in particular, the great Sperm Whale.
Sudden changes of water pressure can be caused by under water earthquakes, under sea volcanic activity, controlled below sea level explosions, and military sonars; each one impairing the incredibly sensitive acoustic navigational system of the whales long before they reach shallow waters, and inevitably swim with the tides to meet their impending doom.
Sperm Whales are one of the oceans most magnificent creatures, and without incident, can live a life coasting the oceans for some seventy years. Reaching an optimum length of approximately twelve meters, these huge sea dwellers are as vulnerable to mankind and the forces of nature, as we humans are, and have ever been.