Mass beach­ing fu­els ‘un­sci­en­tific’ Ja­pan earth­quake wor­ries

The China Post - - LIFE -

The mass beach­ing of more than 150 melon-headed whales on Ja­pan’s shores has fu­eled fears of a re­peat of a seem­ingly un­re­lated event in the coun­try — the dev­as­tat­ing 2011 un­der­sea earth­quake that killed around 19,000 peo­ple.

De­spite a lack of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence link­ing the two events, a flurry of on­line com­men­ta­tors have pointed to the ap­pear­ance of around 50 melon-headed whales — a species that is a mem­ber of the dol­phin fam­ily — on Ja­pan’s beaches six days prior to the mon­ster quake, which un­leashed a tow­er­ing tsunami and trig­gered a nu­clear dis­as­ter.

Sci­en­tists were on Satur­day dis­sect­ing the bod­ies of the whales, 156 of which were found on two beaches on Ja­pan’s Pa­cific coast a day ear­lier, but could not say what caused the beach­ings.

“We don’t see any im­me­di­ate signs of dis­eases on their bod­ies, such as can­cer. We want to fig­ure out what killed th­ese an­i­mals,” Tadasu Ya­mada, a se­nior re­searcher at Na­tional Mu­seum of Na­ture and Science, told public broad­caster NHK.

De­spite the lack of any clear link be­tween the beach­ings and earth­quakes — and com­ments from lo­cal of­fi­cials down­play­ing such a con­nec­tion — many took to so­cial me­dia to point to the link.

“Is the next one com­ing? Be ready for a quake,” wrote Twit­ter user maoeos40d.

An­other Twit­ter user wrote sim­ply: “We might have a big one on the 12th (of April).”

The 2011 Ja­pan earth­quake is not the only in­stance of beached whales closely pre­ced­ing a mas­sive tremor.

More than 100 pi­lot whales died in a mass strand­ing on a re­mote New Zealand beach on Fe­bru­ary 20, 2011, two days be­fore a large quake struck the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest city Christchurch.

Ja­panese of­fi­cials have nev­er­the­less tried to calm fears, and have in­sisted there is no sci­en­tific data to prove the link.

Sci­en­tists are mean­while un­clear as to why the marine an­i­mals strand them­selves in large groups, with some spec­u­lat­ing healthy whales beach them­selves while try­ing to help sick or dis­ori­en­tated fam­ily mem­bers that are stranded.

Oth­ers be­lieve the to­pog­ra­phy of cer­tain places some­how scram­bles the whales’ sonar nav­i­ga­tion, caus­ing them to beach.

Once stranded, the whales are vul­ner­a­ble to de­hy­dra­tion and sun­burn un­til res­cuers can use the high tide to move their mas­sive weight back into deeper wa­ter.

AFP

This photo taken on April 10 shows lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cers be­side mel­on­headed whales washed up on the shore of Hokota, north­east of Tokyo.

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