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Current Affairs

Whale deaths in Australia

Date: 26 September 2020 Tags: Biodiversity

Issue

Over 450 long-finned pilot whales have died in Australia in what is being called the biggest stranding of whales on record in Australia.

 

Background

Whales are known to strand themselves on beaches across the world and they do so singularly or in groups. While individual strandings are mostly attributed to injury or sickness, it is not clear why exactly whales beach themselves in groups.

 

Details

  • There are a few theories that might explain this behaviour. One reason could be that some whales follow schooling fish or other prey into shallow waters, which causes the whales to become disoriented, as a result of which they get stranded.

  • Another reason could be panic from being trapped by a predator such as killer whales or sharks. Another possibility is that whales might be drawn to land by prey-rich currents.

  • Further, the shape of the beach and the coastline could also have a role to play. For instance, if the beach has gently-sloping shorelines, whales that are dependent on echolocation for navigation can be deceived.

  • The species that most often get stranded on Australian beaches are those that use echolocation or sonar for navigation, such as pilot and sperm whales.

  • Whale stranding is neither an uncommon nor a recent phenomenon. While dead individuals would naturally wash up ashore, mass beaching has baffled humans since at least 300 BC.

  • Before this, the largest stranding that has occurred in Tasmania happened in 1935 when over 294 whales were stranded. This stranding also involved long-finned pilot whales.