Could the northern lights cause whale strandings?

5th Sep 2017

- Sperm whale stranded on a beach in the North Sea (Source: BBC News)

An interesting article has shown that large solar storms, responsible for the northern lights, may have played a role in the strandings of sperm whales in the North Sea.  In early 2016, 29 sperm whales (the largest of the toothed whales) stranded around the North Sea coastline.  This is the largest stranding of sperm whales ever recorded in the North Sea.

Many theories such as marine litter pollution, use of sonar, chemical pollution and other forms of noise pollution have been thrown into the mix into why this happened, as well as some scientists attributing the stranding event to the whales being malnourished and then following prey into shallow water.  Sperm whales are a deep diving whale, and they can hold their breath for up to 2 hours and dive to over 2,000m deep.  The North Sea is only 20 - 100m deep on average.

But researchers in Germany say that large-scale solar storms may have distorted the magnetic field and caused the whales to lose their way.  It is thought that whales use the earth's geomagnetic field to help them find their way whilst migrating, and in this case, the solar storms caused these male sperm whales to lose their normal migration route and travel down into the shallow North Sea instead of the deeper waters on the Altlantic.

Read the full article here.

To find out more about this stranding in 2016, see this article here from the Sea Watch Foundation.