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Whale strandings: 5 questions answered

The demise of about 200 pilot whales at a Tasmanian beach has renewed questions on what causes such mass strandings and whether or not they are often prevented.

With the assistance of Karen Stockin, a whale stranding knowledgeable at New Zealand’s Massey College, listed here are the solutions to 5 key questions:

What causes mass strandings?

Scientists are nonetheless attempting to work that out. They do know that there are a number of varieties of stranding occasions, with a number of explanations that may overlap. The causes might be pure, primarily based on bathymetry — the form of the ocean flooring — or they are often species-specific. 

Pilot whales and several other smaller dolphin species are recognized to frequently mass strand, particularly within the southern hemisphere, in keeping with Stockin. In some cases, a sick whale headed in the direction of shore and a full group unwittingly adopted them. 

Does it occur in sure areas?

There are a number of international hotspots. Within the southern hemisphere, Tasmania and New Zealand’s Golden Bay have seen a number of cases, and within the northern hemisphere, the USA bay of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is one other hotspot. 

In these areas, there are similarities between the topography of the seashores and environmental circumstances. For instance, Cape Cod and Golden Bay share a outstanding slim coastal land function and shallow water with giant tidal variations. Some folks name such areas “whale traps” due to the velocity at which the tide can recede.

Are strandings turning into extra widespread?

Probably. Strandings are pure phenomena and have been documented because the days of Aristotle. The well being of the oceans has, nonetheless, deteriorated in latest many years.

Strandings might grow to be extra widespread as human use of the seas, delivery site visitors and chemical air pollution all enhance. 

Epizootic ailments — outbreaks of illness that have an effect on a selected animal species — might additionally result in extra. However there’s nonetheless a lot to know in regards to the phenomenon, Stockin mentioned. 

Is local weather change an element?

Analysis on how local weather change is affecting marine mammals remains to be in its infancy. Specialists know that local weather change can provide rise to adjustments in prey and predator distribution. For some species, this may increasingly lead to whales coming nearer to shore. 

For instance, latest analysis primarily based on present local weather prediction fashions means that by the 12 months 2050, the distribution of sperm whales and blue whales in New Zealand might range significantly.

Can strandings be prevented?

Probably not. As strandings happen for a large number of causes, there isn’t any one-size-fits-all resolution. However Stockin mentioned that by higher understanding whether or not and the way human-induced adjustments are inflicting extra mass strandings, options might be discovered. 

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