Science and TechAnimals and Insects


Why Do Whales Beach Themselves? Scientists Have A Few Theories

Theories on why whales beach themselves range from human sonar activity to the animal's own social behaviors.
Posted at 2:39 PM, Feb 12, 2017

Hundreds of pilot whales managed to return to the water after being stranded on a New Zealand beach.

About 416 whales were stranded Friday; many got free but were then restranded. Hundreds of whales died. It was the third largest mass stranding in New Zealand history.

But how do whales and dolphins — who are naturally expert navigators — end up getting beached?

Individual animals will strand themselves for simple reasons, including illness, injury and old age.

But mass strandings — like those in New Zealand — are a bit more mysterious.

Humans might have a hand in some whale strandings. Loud sonar can cause them to flee and beach themselves.

But other factors could play a role as well. Whales and dolphins are, for the most part, social creatures. And some species follow a leader, which could lead them to shore.

Environmental factors could also be to blame. Scientists think changes in the Earth's magnetic field could disorient them. And red tides — poisonous red algae blooms — might have been responsible for stranding over 300 whales in Chile in 2015.