Blinding solar storms could be the cause of whale strandings
Grey whales may be “blinded” by solar storms, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology. The solar activity interferes with the whales’ internal magnetic navigation system, causing them to become stranded on the shore, often resulting in death.
Many species of whales have been observed undertaking mammoth seasonal migrations that take them from ocean regions rich with food to their traditional breeding grounds. Depending on the species, a whale can travel upwards of 10,000 miles (16,100 km) on a single migratory round trip, which often takes the vast marine mammals close to shorelines.
Sadly, each year seemingly healthy whales are found stranded on shorelines across the globe, where, without intervention, they inevitably die.
During a solar storm high-energy particles are ejected from our Sun’s atmosphere, and rush outward into the solar system. These particles interact with Earth’s geomagnetic field, sometimes disrupting it to such an extent that it can affect the behavior of organisms that rely on it to navigate.
The study revealed that the chance of a stranding was around twice as high on days during which spots occurred on the Sun’s surface, than on randomly selected days when they did not. This suggests that the whales rely on a form of magnetic navigation to maintain a true course during their long migrations.
The research details two ways that the solar activity could have confused the whales’ magnetic instinct.
It is possible that the whales were becoming stranded as a result of a deviation in Earth’s magnetic field brought on by an interaction with charged particles from the Sun, tricking the whales into thinking that they are in the wrong place.
Secondly, the solar particles could lead to an increase in solar radio flux, which according to the study is the “globally averaged measure of radio frequency (RF).” This radio noise has been known to interfere with several species’ magnetic navigation capabilities, and so could be “blinding” the whales’ biological sensors.
Customers were treated to a rare sight when a big hippo dropped by a petrol garage in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa over the weekend. The animal was spotted strolling into the Engen/OK Express garage in St Lucia on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast on Sunday night and was recorded by a passerby.