Beached Whales

From: Phil Clapham (
Date: Sun Oct 05 2003 - 12:55:58 EDT

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    We can explain - at least in general terms - many but not all
    beachings/strandings. Certain factors and locations are often consistent
    in mass strandings, and in some places it's fairly simple. in others,
    it's more
    of a mystery.

    First of all it's important to distinguish between single and mass
    strandings. Single strandings are invariably of animals that are
    terminally ill, and these can involve anything from dolphins to
    (occasionally) large baleen whales. Mass strandings are confined
    exclusively to toothed whales (dolphins, porpoises, sperm whales etc),
    and frequently involve a few species. Pilot whales are common mass
    stranders. The reasons are probably not simple, but a mass stranding is
    likely a combination of more than one factor acting together. Each
    factor increases the probability of a stranding.

    Off Cape Cod, for instance, we have a lot of these events. Part of it
    is clear due to bottom topography - there are places here where, at high
    tide (especially spring tides) it's quite deep, but any whales hanging
    around for too long risk being caught on a rapidly falling tide and
    stranded in an area of shallows and sand bars. Add to this bad weather
    - which makes it difficult for whales to reorient themselves, and may
    well include large waves pushing them onto a beach - and you have a good
    recipe for a stranding. The close-knit social ties of pilot whales
    almost certainly don't help - when one whale gets into trouble, others
    will stick with it and fall into the same trap.

    Phil Clapham

    Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D.
    Large Whale Biology Program
    Northeast Fisheries Science Center
    166 Water Street
    Woods Hole, MA 02543

    Tel (508) 495-2316 Fax (508) 495-2066

    > I have looked on the net for an answers to my question. My question is > why do whales beach themselves.

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