Whale Beach Theory

whale beach theory
To be Valid, this whale beach theory must explain why on November 22, 1884, 1500 pilot whales swam ashore at Cape Cod, and why such a large stranding have never occurred since!

A Valid Whale Beach Theory Must Explain All Consistent Observations and Also Connect Both Modern and Ancient Beachings to a Common Cause

Whale scientists admit they don’t know why whales mass strand. Yet, they have advanced 200+ odd theories that even when combined into one still do not explain the consistent observations at the beach. To get around their obvious weakness, scientists now claim there is a little truth in all their ideas. In other words, whales mass strand for ~200 different reasons. Does that sound scientific to you?

To muddy the water even more, whale scientists toss in psychological concepts. For example, their most often quoted theory is that a large group of odontocetes mass strand because they were following a sick pod member to the beach and got caught by a falling tide. In other words, forget all about self-preservation as the first law of nature, mass stranded toothed whales love each other so much that they cannot allow a close friend to die alone–they must join their sick friends and all die together.

This is not science; it’s comedy.

Whale scientists also seem to be especially fearful of any new idea that might gain popularity and causes them great embarrassment.  We call this the “not invented here syndrome.”

As an example, suppose whales mass strand because of a pressure-related injury in their cranial air spaces that might easily occur during a surprise encounter with rapid and intense vacillations in diving pressure induced by one of the following natural undersea catastrophic upheavals: (1) seafloor earthquakes, (2) undersea volcanic explosions, (3) the sudden collapse of a volcanic caldera, (4) shock waves generated when a heavenly body slams into the surface. Such an accident would certainly fit with the millions of years mass strandings have occurred.

That the cause turns out to be barotraumatic in nature (the most common injury if all divers) would make scientists look like fools! Do they deserve it? After all, barotrauma is indeed the most common injury in ALL diving sea mammals, sea turtles, and birds, including humans! But whale scientists have NEVER EVER investigated barotrauma in the cranial air sinuses, middle ear air pockets, or the massive air sacs that isolate and insulate the cochlea’s of whales.

I say again! No whale scientists has ever postulated barotrauma  in the cranial air spaces due to exposure to rapid and excessive changes in diving pressure. Is this silence because 90% of their funding comes from the oil industry and the US Navy?

The whale stranding hypothesis presented here suggest that excessive low-frequency (LF) pressure pulsations generated by all the above named sources (plus Navy sonar, explosives, and airguns) cause barosinusitis in the cranial air spaces of diving whales that disables their echo-navigation system. In other words, the cause of both ancient and modern beachings is rapid and excessive changes in ambient water pressure resulting in barosinusitis in the cranial air spaces of pods of deep diving whales and dolphins. See sample solutions.

Because the cranial air spaces of odontocete serve an acoustic function, barosinusitis in these air sacs and sinuses will indeed disable biosonar and cause whales to swim blindly downstream. They will swim with the flow because everything without a sense of direction either floats or swims in the path of least drag. The downstream current that guides whales to beaches is also the same energy that builds the beach in the first place.

This is a valid whale beach hypothesis that also agrees with what the great Nikola Tesla said years ago… “if you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.”

Undersea earthquakes, postulated to be the #1 cause, generate low-frequency hydroacoustic p-waves that are felt by diving whales as excessive changes in diving pressure that can reach 100,000 pounds per square inch.

Pelagic Odontocete Feed Mostly on Squid!

Species of whales and dolphins that mass strand spends much of their time above seismically active mid-oceanic ridge system where the squid breed and lay their eggs. This area is usually free of navy sonar, seismic air cannons, and undersea explosions. On the other hand, species not known to mass strand do not spend time in seismically active waters. They hang out in areas often visited by seismic survey ships and navy warships. It others words, we can generally assume that natural seafloor upheavals can injure entire pods of pelagic toothed whales and dolphins while navy sonar and human operation injure coastal water species with the exception of beaked whales.

Mass stranding whales and dolphins live far offshore in tight social groups. When alone, these individuals are extremely afraid of being attacked from below by large oceanic sharks. When in their pod, they relax because they have many pod mates to alert them of approaching danger. For this reason, they live close to each other and are seldom observed more than a hundred meters from the center of their pod.

Coastal Dolphins

On the other hand, species that form loose pods in coastal waters, in which two or three individuals are often found several miles from the pod center, never mass strand. Said differently, major seafloor disturbances are more likely to injury all the members of the pod at the same time. On the other hand, families of coastal species that spread out along 30 miles of coastline are not likely to be injured by a single disturbance.

Timing and the Flow of Current are Important!

Mass strandings occur usually at night and only when the tide is rising and the wind is blowing the surface currents towards the shore; however, most stranded pods are not discovered until the next morning by the first visitors to the beach.  This is easily verifiable by looking at hundreds of pictures and online videos. The tide often falls by the time someone takes a picture or video. The stranded animals are then left high and dry at the high tide mark. This indicates that strong shoreward flow guide lost whales to the beach at night. On the other hand, whales never beach when the wind is calm and the tide is flowing out to sea.

whale beach theory
whales never beach during calm seas
whale beach theories
Whales always beach when the current is washing ashore.

Dehydration and no Fresh Food in their Stomachs!

Live-stranded pod members appear outwardly healthy; however, postmortem examinations reveal dehydration, starvation, and a multitude of bacterial, viral and parasitic infections. It is obvious from medical examinations that all the adult members of the pod are ill, not just one or two pod leaders. The two most consistent observations are dehydration and no fresh food in their stomachs. Immune failure goes hand in hand with starvation and dehydration.

The nursing young are usually in far better health than the adults, and can often be more easily rehabilitated.

Stranded whales can only be pushed back out to deep water when the tidal currents are flowing out to sea and when there are no stormy waves and currents washing ashore, overpowering the outflow of the tidal current. When the waves are breaking in the surf zone and the seas are flowing ashore, the only successful method of re floating stranded whales is to transport them overland to a beach with a favorable outflow.

Mass beachings occur repeatedly along certain shores while other similar shores seldom record such events. Any acceptable theory must explain why whales live strand so often at Cape Sorell, Tasmania, Golden Bay, New Zealand, and Cape Cod in the USA.

Drive Fisheries are Connected!

Drive fisheries for dolphins, such as those in the Faeroe Islands and in Japan, in which men in many small boast drive pods of dolphin onto the shore and then slaughter them in a bloody massacre originated in areas where pods often beached. Thus, there is a close association between mass beached whales and those slaughtered in the drive fisheries. The fishermen are obviously herding injured pods predestined to beach anyway!

The Shape of the Land!

Mass beachings most often occur at locations where large geographical land masses extend out to sea opposing the current. Prime examples included Golden Bay and the Chatham Islands, New Zealand, Cape Sorell, Tasmania, and Cape Cod Bay in the USA.

Most major beaching sites around the world show a peak stranding season usually lasting ~90 days. Strandings seldom occur at these repeat locations outside of this limited time frame.

Mass strandings generally occur on gently shelving beaches and do not occur on rocky shores or mud flats or in areas where sand is not accumulating unless the stranding occurs in backwater areas inside an inlet. Obviously, whales will not beach if the water is too deep to stop their forward progress. Whereas gently shelving beaches would naturally trap lost whales. Rocky shorelines and beaches that drop off too fast usually have ample depth to allow a small toothed whale to swim, preventing a beaching in these areas. However, there are thousands upon thousands of miles of mudflats and mangrove shorelines where the water is only a few inches deep for many miles out to the open sea.

The Whales Act Lost!

When pushed back to sea, stranded animals often return to shore, or are found re-stranded further downstream from the original site.

Beached whales are most often sighted in the early morning by the first visitors indicating that beachings tend to occur at night. On the other hand, strandings that occur inside an inlet or bay, and in backwater areas, generally occur during low tide when the water recedes from under the whales.

Whale Beaching Theories

The idea that mass stranded whales follow a sick leader or pod member into the shallow water was first proposed in 1945 by Dr. Leonard Gill, the director of the South African Museum. Even though this concept is quickly dismissed by a stranding event in which small groups of animals from the same pod strand at different times over a period of several days, the idea is still promoted at every stranding.

Here’s the funny part: Many junior scientists to Dr. Gill were suggesting in 1946 that a subterranean earthquake might indeed cause pod of whales to loss their sense of direction. But Dr. Gill would not listen to any idea but his own. He laughed at the earthquake idea and stuck with his follow-the-leader concept that he invented.

Folks continue even today to wonder where the leader is when whales from the same pod are found scattered along a 20-mile stretch of beach. In other words, whale scientists can not even identify the leader yet they still spout this nonsense even today. This theory offers no explanation for season variations in stranding patterns, no reason why there is an increase in night strandings, no explanation for why re-floated animals often re-strand downstream, no reason why strandings do not occur in heavy seas, nor why all the adult members of the pod are usually seriously ill. Besides, suicide over sickness in a leader violates all known evolutionary principles. A suicide gene would have disappear in less than 5 generations.

Follow the Leader an Old Idea!

However, according to 5,000-plus online newspaper articles about stranded whales, and a hundred different videos like the one below, modern whale scientists still repeat this ancient concept over and over again. They say that these pod leaders and/or navigators go ashore because they can no longer stay afloat.

The problem with this theory is that there is a far more logical way to explain why a pod of non-navigating whales seem to be following a leader.

Lost Whales and the Sharks that Feed on Them! 

Suppose I’m right that a barotraumatic sinus injury causes the pod to lose their acoustic sense of direction. Never mind the details, just follow along assuming that the pod has lost its ability to echo-navigate. And, since busted sinuses would also prevent diving and feeding, assume our pod is not feeding.

The smell of blood, urine, feces, and body fluids deposited in the water by the overly stressed injured whales would immediately draw in hungry oceanic sharks, prime predators of marine mammals for millions of years. They instinctively know when a pod is in trouble.

They must follow the injured pod from down stream so the smell of body fluids will drift back to them. This is where they wait to rip apart any slow swimmers.

Sharks cull the most-injured long before the pod reaches the beach. These means that only those pod members with slight physical injuries will survive long enough to beach.

Fear of being the next whale torn to pieces by a pack of starving sharks will cause individuals to initiate behavior solely directed towards self-preservation. These dying mammals are not so much in love with their pod mates that they would surrender their own lives. They are wild animals with a very strong sense of self-preservation… it’s nature’s way.

They know instinctively that remaining close to each other in a group reduces the odds of shark attack on the individual. If they leave the pod, they will surely be singled out and ripped to pieces.

Selfish Behavior and Self Preservation!

To recognize the desire to live in injured whales and dolphins, we need to know a little about behavior in a selfish herd living on the plains of Africa. The risk to the individual that a predator will attack is greatest on the outside of the herd. The risk decreases towards the center. More dominant herding animals will take the low-risk central positions. This forces subordinates into the higher risk outside positions. Again… this is nature’s way and built into the genes of each animal in the herd.

The same is true for an injured herd of lost whales and dolphins swimming downstream with the current. However, the greatest risk of a shark attack is not around the outside of the pod. The greatest danger is bringing up the rear because the sharks are smelling the waters, trailing from behind and picking off stragglers. This means the safest spot would be in front of the pod, furthermost from the sharks.

This is not an example of a “strong social bond”. Rather, it is a perfect example of selfish herd behavior as outlined is this 1971 science article entitled “Geometry for the Selfish Herd” by W. D. Hamilton.

Selfish Pod Leaders Out Front!

Instead of protecting the young and other pod members by taking a position between the sharks and the rest of the pod, the non-navigating selfish pod leaders, wanting to save their own butts, will be the first to go ashore because they are usually out front while the surface currents are guiding the lost whales ashore. The rest of the pod will follow in a blind-following-the-blind fashion because the same current is also guiding them. This will create the illusion that the pod is following a sick pod mate or leader due to strong social cohesion.

Selfish-herd behavior has been purposefully overlooked by whale experts even though self-preservation is an almost universal hallmark of life. Instead, scientists say that a healthy pod is following one or two sick members to the beach. When the pod does not leave the beach right away, the scientists often say that pod members will not leave a sick member behind because they have such a strong social attachment. Nonsense!

Just the Opposite is True!

The truth is that the entire pod has lost its sense of direction. Those not stuck in the sand will mill around near where their pod members are still stuck for two reasons: (a) the lingering whales believe the sharks are waiting just offshore, (b) they do not want to swim into the sharks by themselves, and (c) the current near shore is often slack and, with no current, the whales have no sense of direction.

When the tidal flow does start to wash back to deep water, the rescuers know they must push most of the whales out to sea at the same time because no whale wants to be first to meet up with the jaws of death.

One other point about the sharks… they will not attack the collective herd because healthy toothed whales and dolphins have ways of protecting themselves. A few pod members can distract the sharks while others swim down and come up like a rocket, ramming the sharks in the liver. The massive liver of a shark is its most vulnerable spot and the whales know it. The sharks do not know the injured whales cannot defend themselves so they use caution and wait until a single whale lags behind. The whales know this, which explains why they will not swim away for the beach alone. This means that the real value in pushing the lost whales back out to deep water are: (1) Save the money the city would spend to bury the carcasses, and (2) feed the starving sharks.

Magnetic Navigation?

Two Geo-biologists suggested that the lost pods are following magnetic clues in a form of magnetic “dead” reckoning and accidentally run aground when this magnetic path crosses a shoreline. To make their theory workable, these scientists suggest that toothed whales might be able to use the earth’s magnetic field as an aide to navigation and might beach if this system fails. In other words, this bogus theory creates an imaginary mode of navigation and then uses its failure as an explanation for the beaching.

According to Klinowska, all whale strandings in Britain occur where magnetic field contours are perpendicular (90% right angles) to the shoreline. Since it is a known fact that all mass strandings occur on beaches, then it must hold true that magnetic field contours are perpendicular to the shoreline in areas where beaches are located. What about beaches where the contour lines are at 45% angles or at 30% angles to the shoreline? In fact, if the stranded pods followed the magnetic contours as suggested, they could just as easily be misled to strand where the angles were only 10% or 20%.

The Sun Plays a Part!

According to Klinowska, strandings are also correlated with irregular changes in the magnetic field caused by sunspots and CMEs. But whales usually beach at night. Still, she insist that mass stranded whales use the total geomagnetic field of the Earth as a map. An imagined geomagnetic timer in the brain allows the whales to check their position both night and day since the geomagnetic field changes when the sun comes up. But they are not using the directional information of the Earth’s magnetic field as we do with our compasses. Rather, they are supposedly using small relative differences in the total local field that changes hourly, which explains why they need the imaginary timer.

Klinowska arrived at this explanation after an alleged detailed analysis of the records of strandings in Britain.

But two groups working separately in Newfoundland and New Zealand have failed to duplicate Klinowska’s work. Other scientists who repeated the same geomagnetic studies failed to confirm the stranding patterns suggested. Still, the media continue to report a geomagnetic sense in whales regardless that most studies show no merit in this idea. In other words, there is nothing to support a failed geomagnetic sense of direction yet the press still continues to report this irrational idea.  It seems to boil down to one thing. If scientists say it’s so, then the press will print it whether it makes sense or not.

Klinowska said, “The total magnetic field of the Earth is not uniform. It is distorted (along the seafloor near mid-oceanic ridges) by the underlying geology, forming a topography of magnetic ‘hills and valleys.’ My analysis shows that the animals move along the contours of these magnetic slopes and in certain circumstances this can lead them to strand themselves.” Klinowska never tracked any whales to show her analysis; she simply assumed the pods moved along the contours because it fit her idea of a failing compass.

Magnetic Navigation is Not Valid!

But rather than assume the pods move along the magnetic contours, it seems more rational to assume that they are moving along the mid-oceanic spreading ridges following the squid, their favorite food. It just happens that the magnetic patterns do flow along this ridge axis. If the patterns flowed at right angles to the ridge, the whales would then be swimming along at right angles to their favorite food and the geo-biologists would adjust their theory accordingly.

Klinowska also said, “In the oceans, sea-floor spreading has produced a set of almost parallel hills and valleys. Whales could use these as “undersea motorways” but might swim into problems when they came near the shore because the magnetic contours do not stop at the beach. They continue onto the land, and sometimes so do the whales.”

This statement is shown to be pure nonsense in Iceland, which has one of the largest populations of the species known to mass strand in the world. The seafloor spreading ridge moves from the ocean floor through the very center of Iceland as does the geomagnetic contour lines yet Iceland is not known as a mass stranding hot spot. The same thing holds true in other areas where the mid-oceanic spreading ridges run directly onshore.

In addition, why would the whales struggle with the magnetic contours to follow the mid-ocean spreading centers since these areas are seismically speaking one of the noisiest places on earth? Using magnetic patterns to track such noise would be like humans using a magnetic signature to tell when a train roared by.

If the geomagnetic contour lines are leading the pods to the beach, then how does one account for no mass strandings where we know the lines run straight into the shore and where we know there is a large population of the species known to be mass stranders?

Klinowska insists that, in addition to strandings where the land-intersects contours, unpredictable daily changes in the earth’s magnetic field can upset the whales’ imagined timing mechanism, causing them to lose their true position on their magnetic dead-reckoning maps. “Magnetically speaking, they become lost.” But why would the whales use magnetism in broad daylight when all they had to do was to glance at the shoreline. In other words, these geo-biologists have imagined a timing mechanism in the brain of the whales and then imagined that the mechanism is always going on the blink.

The Kirchvink Opinion!

Joseph L. Kirschvink, of the California Institute of Technology, has plotted hundreds of beachings of whales and dolphins along the U.S. East Coast. He finds that whales tend to run aground at spots where the rocks and grains of sand weakened the local magnetic field. Supposedly, these coastal magnetic lows are at the ends of long, continuous channels of magnetic minima that run for great distances along the ocean floors. Kirschvink believes that the stranded whales and dolphins were using these magnetic troughs for navigation and failed to see the stop sign at the beaches and ran aground. The magnetic troughs in this view are super highways for animals equipped with a magnetic sense. If Kirschvink is correct, the magnetic sensors of the whales and dolphins are extremely sensitive because the deepest magnetic troughs are only about 4% weaker than the background magnetic field.

Kirschvink suggests that different species of whales follow different levels of magnetism. This forces the magnetic results to fit the stranding sites.

Efforts to duplicate Kirschvink show no such geomagnetic stranding pattern. Besides, a system of navigation that leads healthy whales to their death does not fit evolutionary processes. For healthy animals to swim blindly into a beach due to “wrong way” geomagnetic clue, other known forms of navigation (vision, biosonar, taste and etc) would all have to fail. In addition, a failed geomagnetic compass offers no explanation for seasonal variations in stranding patterns. There is no reason for an increase in night strandings. There is no reason why re-floated pods often re-strand downstream. No reason for strandings to occur in heavy seas. No reason why all the adult members of the pod are found seriously ill. In addition, magnetite crystals (found in birds, fish, and insects) necessary for a magnetic sense of some sort, so far have not been found in whales and dolphins.

The tendency to strand for stupid reasons would eventually be washed from the gene pool.

Furthermore, if healthy animals swam into a beach due to geomagnetic clues, echo-navigation must also fail.

New Ideas!

A new theory suggests strandings in the Southern Ocean are due to westerly winds that increase in strength. Marine biologist Dr. Karen Evans said the currents have a 12-year cycle. It peaked in 2005. She claims cyclical westerly and southerly winds draw nutrient-rich waters closer to the surface. This draws more whales into shallow water setting up accidental stranding.

Even if true, a theory explaining one area cannot be applied to the entire world.

Accidental strandings simply do not hold water. But the idea that lost pods strand during a strong shoreward wind has merit. Such a theory would also have merit everywhere. Suppose the pod suffered a barotraumatic injury caused by seaquakes in the Southern Ocean. The shoreward current, the energy that builds beaches, would also guide lost whales to the sand. There is also an increase in surface currents moving toward the beaches in New Zealand and Australia in October thru January. This increase accounts for a seasonal increase in strandings during this period. There is also evidence that higher waves on the ocean’s surface increase the number of earthquakes in the seabed.

Suppose a pod suffered a barotraumatic injury caused by seaquakes in the Southern Ocean. And this injury knocked out their biosonar. Lost whales will always swim downstream. The shoreward current, the energy that builds beaches, would also guide these lost whales to the sand.

As mentioned above, there is an increase in surface currents washing towards the beaches in New Zealand and Australia in October thru January. This accounts for a seasonal increase in the strandings of non-navigating whales during this period.

Old Ideas!

In 1934, F. C. Fraser suggested the inflow of water from the North Atlantic guided the whales to the shallow beaches. He refers to a strong southwesterly wind when false killers went ashore at Mamre, France.

Frazer rightfully thought these strong winds would shift the surface currents. The current would bring prey into the shallows around Mamre. He argues that false killers could easily strand in shallow waters. He also indicates shallow, gently shelving, and sandy coastlines.

Fraser offered no real reason why the current would pull the whales to the beach. Dudok Van Heel assumed the current brought squid into the shallows and the whales followed.

Gentle Shelving Beach!

In 1962, Dudok Van Heel said gently shelving beaches would not bounce the sonar. This theory does not account for the ill-health of the pod members. But it remains popular. It allows those pretending to save stranded whales to seek donations from the public. The public donates as long as they believe the whales accidentally beach. Saving stranded whales has become a big business. It would collapse tomorrow if the public realized the whales were suffering barosinusitis. The stranding crews need to feed, hydrated and protected the whales from sharks for at least a month. Whose gonna pay for this?

Simon Woodings suggested sonar as a navigational tool caused mass strandings. He felt bubbles and sand disrupted echolocation. But whales would turn and swim the other way if their sonar failed.

Sea World said that an aggressive pathogen causes strandings. But a nasty germ would kill the very young. Yet, they are usually the most healthy and most often to survive.

Vanselow and Ricklefs compared sperm whale strandings in the period from 1712 to 2003 with solar activity. Supposedly, 90% of 97 sperm whale strandings in the North Sea took place when sunspots were below average 11-year values. Only 10% occurred when the sunspots were above average.

The problem here is that the sun spends 25% of its time with few sunspots. This does not fit 11-year cycles. The cycles vary far too much. Besides, 90% of whale strandings occur at night when the sun is not shining.

Loss of Echo-navigation due to Barotrauma!

This author created the theory that undersea seismic upheavals caused whale beaching. It first appeared in 1987 in a 106-page booklet. The US Marine Mammal Commission requested the article. The titled was, “Auditory Trauma as the Major Factor in Whale Strandings.” This theory said seaquake-generated pressure waves induced sinus barotrauma is the adult pod members.

The air contained in their cranial air chambers serves underwater to reflect, focus, and channel sound waves. This means that sinus injury disables echo-navigation.  It also prevents the animals from diving to the depth of their prey due to pain. The inability to feed leads to immune dysfunction and dehydration. The distressed pod huddles together for protection against sharks. It then swims downstream with the surface currents until a rising tide guides them into a beach. A falling tide leaves them stuck in the sand.

by Capt. David Williams (BSc, Msc)
Chairman Deafwhale Society, the oldest whale conservation group in the world.


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