Why do whales beach themselves to die?

Answered by Randy McIntyre

Whales beach themselves to die for a variety of reasons, and it is a complex and tragic phenomenon. As an expert in marine biology, I have studied and witnessed these events firsthand, and I can provide a detailed explanation.

One reason why whales beach themselves is due to navigational errors. Whales rely on echolocation to navigate and communicate with each other underwater. However, in certain situations, such as in shallow waters or areas with complex underwater topography, their echolocation signals can bounce off objects and confuse them. This can lead to the whales becoming disoriented and ending up stranded on shore.

Another factor that can contribute to beaching is social bonding within whale pods. Whales are highly social creatures and often travel in groups called pods. If one member of the pod becomes sick or injured and becomes stranded, other members may follow and beach themselves in an attempt to stay together and protect their companion. This behavior is known as “mass stranding” and has been observed in various whale species.

Furthermore, health issues and underlying medical conditions can also play a role in beaching events. Whales, like all mammals, are susceptible to diseases, infections, and parasites. When a whale is already weakened by illness or suffering from internal injuries, it may not have the strength or energy to swim back to deeper waters. This can result in the whale becoming stranded and eventually dying.

In addition to these factors, whales may also beach themselves due to external threats and human activities. For example, loud underwater noise from sonar systems used by naval forces or seismic surveys can disorient and stress whales, causing them to panic and strand themselves. Pollution, such as oil spills or harmful algal blooms, can also contaminate their habitats and lead to health issues, increasing the chances of beaching.

It is important to note that the act of beaching itself is not intentional suicide. Whales are not capable of making conscious decisions to end their lives. Instead, it is a tragic consequence of various factors that can lead to their demise. When a whale becomes stranded, its massive weight puts immense pressure on its internal organs, leading to circulation problems and toxin buildup. This poisoning ultimately leads to the death of the animal.

Furthermore, once out of the water, a whale’s thick blubber, which serves as insulation in colder waters, can cause it to overheat under the sun’s direct heat. The lack of water to cool their bodies, combined with the stress of being stranded, can further weaken the whale and hasten its demise.

Additionally, whales need to breathe air as they are mammals, and their blowhole is their means of respiration. When stranded, if water enters their blowhole during high tide, they can drown. This adds another layer of danger and vulnerability for stranded whales.

Whales beach themselves to die due to a combination of navigational errors, social bonding within pods, health issues, external threats, and human activities. It is a heartbreaking event that highlights the vulnerability of these magnificent creatures and the need for conservation efforts to protect their habitats and ensure their survival in our oceans.