So­lar storms may af­fect whales

The Week - Junior - - Animals And The Environment -

Early last year, 29 sperm whales were found stranded on beaches across north­ern Europe, six of them on the east coast of the UK. When the bod­ies of young sperm whales be­gan ap­pear­ing on the beaches of France, Ger­many, the Nether­lands and the UK, no­body could quite work out why. Some peo­ple thought that the whales had been poi­soned or had ac­ci­den­tally fol­lowed their prey into shal­low wa­ters and be­come beached (when whales and dol­phins get stuck on the sand). Now, a study has re­vealed that so­lar storms could be be­hind the deaths.

A team of re­searchers from Ger­many’s Univer­sity of Kiel think that these strand­ings could have been the re­sult of large so­lar storms. So­lar storms oc­cur when the Sun pushes out clouds of en­ergy and par­ti­cles. They can af­fect Earth’s mag­netic field. It’s thought that changes to Earth’s mag­netic field might have dis­rupted the sperm whales’ spe­cial abil­ity to nav­i­gate through the wa­ter in the same way so­lar storms can af­fect com­passes. This is thought to be why the whales be­came lost in the shal­lows, and beached them­selves.

Whales travel in groups known as pods. Ex­perts think that if one of the whales is af­fected by the so­lar storm, it could re­sult in oth­ers in the group fol­low­ing, which may have been what hap­pened last year.

Young sperm whales be­came beached across Europe.

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