Mass strandings, when was the first in U.S.

Date: Wed Sep 18 2002 - 13:16:19 EDT

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    I have a question about whales that I hope you can answer.
    When was the first recorded mass whale beaching in north america. Is this a new behavior or is it a well documented behavior .
                                            hope for repy

    I took your question to Dr. James Mead who is the head of the marine mammal division at the Smithsonian Institution. He maintains a database of all strandings in the U.S. Theoretically, stranding data is channeled eventually to the Smithsonian for housing via local stranding networks which are organized by various regions. I'm just going to assume that giving you the information for the U.S. is good enough and that you won't make me chase down similar info for Canada.

    Now, you'll have to remember that strandings have obviously taken place long before record-keeping took place, so keep that in mind when I give you the dates. You must also keep in mind that marine mammal scientists typically call >=3 animals a mass stranding. 100+ animals stranded at a time is not an everyday event. Dr. Mead queiried his database and found that the oldest records for the U.S. are mass strandings of pilot whales (more specially, the long-finned pilot whale). The earliest record is from December 6, 1620 in Eastham, Massachusetts. That was of 3 individuals. I figured you were probably interested in the larger numbers. The second oldest mass stranding record for the U.S. was of 400 pilot whales in 1793 (exact date not known).

    The source of the above records is: McFee, W. E. 1991 Common names
    applied to the long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas. Canadian
    Field-Naturalist, 105:564-566.

    To the second part of your question, obviously mass strandings have been taking place for quite some time. Pilot whales are your typical mass stranding species, but that doesn't preclude the other whale and dolphin species. No one really knows why whales strand. There are a multitude of reasons, and I suggest you pick up a great book published by Texas Sea Grant by Geraci and Lounsbury on marine mammal strandings. Therein, they list a variety of factors that have implicated in strandings. I would also suggest going thru the WhaleNet archives for additional information on this topic, since it is a popular question (well...the second part of your question, that is) and many different visiting scientists to WhaleNet have addressed it.

    Hope this answers all of your questions (and then some).


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