Among the evidence? A rash of 29 sperm whales, all male, who beached themselves off the coast of the North Sea between Jan. 8 and Feb. 3, 2016. Autopsies were performed on 22 of the whales and found them to be well nourished and in generally good health before they died.
Stranded Whales Appeared on Shore During the Auroras
The reason behind these beachings may relate to a pair of solar storms which causes auroras over northern Europe shortly beforehand: an eighteen-hour one in late December of 2015, and a twenty-eight hour one in early January 2016.
Sperm whales do not normally enter the North Sea, which is too shallow for them and lacks the squids that make up their preferred food source. Nevertheless, occasional stranded whales in the area go back to at least the Middle Ages.
It is believed that cetaceans, like whales and dolphins, use the Earth’s magnetic field in order to navigate the oceans. This process, called magnetoreception, is also used by birds, bats, and bees. Previous studies show that these animals become disoriented by geomagnetic anomalies, such as auroras which might be caused by solar storms.
The reason behind the increased number of stranded whales, according to this theory, is that male sperm whales are less used to disturbances made by the sun because they spend their earlier years in lower latitudes, where these changes are less powerful.
Later, when their post-mating “bachelor groups” travel to the Norwegian Sea to search for tasty squid, the increased disruptions may confuse some whales. The study notes that unless the whales realize there is a problem and use a different source of navigation, they are likely to spend the next week swimming off-course, leading to an unpleasant fate in the North Sea’s shallower waters.
Image Source: Wikipedia