Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Collin from St. Francis, MN. Collin Wonders, “why are there beached whales” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Collin!
Have you ever been to an aquarium? Like zoos, aquariums feature creatures that most people never get to see in their wild, native habitats. Aquariums are particularly fascinating because they showcase sea creatures in huge tanks. Since we don't live in water, we get to see amazing animals, such as sharks and whales, which we would otherwise rarely, if ever, see.
If you're a fan of whales, then you've probably seen news reports at one time or another about beached whales. Are beached whales a particular species of whale? Or are they whales that just like to spend a lot of time at the beach?
Unfortunately, neither of these is true. Beached whales are whales that have become stranded on land. As sea creatures, stranded on the beach is the last place a whale wants to be.
When a whale becomes stranded on land, it begins to suffer immediately. Without the water it's used to, a beached whale will begin to dehydrate quickly. Moreover, these huge creatures will also begin to collapse and suffocate under their own weight, which is normally supported by all the water around them.
While it is possible for marine experts to rescue a beached whale (or a dolphin or any other kind of stranded aquatic creature), most whales that get stranded end up dying. Often, experts simply cannot get them back into the water before they succumb to dehydration or other problems caused by being out of their natural environment.
Their huge size adds to the problem, since it can take many people and resources, such as large machines, to move a stranded whale back to safety. Assembling all of the necessary resources usually takes longer than a stranded whale is able to survive out of the water.
Since it can be so difficult to save a stranded whale, scientists have focused their efforts on learning why whales and other creatures get stranded. Hopefully, learning more about the causes of strandings will lead scientists to figure out ways to prevent them.
To date, scientists haven't been able to pin down exactly why whales get stranded. Every year, as many as 2,000 animals beach themselves accidentally. By studying each stranding, scientists have begun to develop ideas about why they occur. So far, there are many theories that have been developed.
For example, scientists know that some strandings occur as a result of animals colliding with ships. Such accidents can injure or disorient animals to the point that they swim into unfamiliar, shallow waters, where they end up stranded when the tide goes out.
Similar cases of disorientation might be caused by water polluted with chemicals, as well as man-made sonar in areas where military boats are prevalent. Whales might also get beached as a result of natural illnesses or being chased into shallow waters by predators, such as sharks.
Some scientists also believe that changes in the oceans caused by global warming may be forcing whales and other sea creatures to move into unfamiliar waters in search of food. Shifting food sources and changes in the tides might be to blame for strandings in certain areas.
Of course, in some cases, what looks like a stranding may just be an animal that has already died washing up onto shore. As scientists continue to study instances of stranded sea animals, they hope that their findings will lead to ways to prevent such strandings in the future.