Sunday, 17 September 2017

Solar Flares May Explain Mass Whale Stranding

By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor | September 8, 2017 08:16am ET
A solar storm currently affecting the Earth's high atmosphere could spell bad news for an unexpected victim: whales.
Recent research finds that the fatal stranding of 29 whales in early 2016 could have been caused by solar activity — when mind-boggling amounts of energy erupt from the sun in various forms. Magnetic waves emanating from solar storms may affect sperm-whale navigation, that study found. The navigational confusion can be deadly if whales end up swimming into too-shallow waters and getting stuck.
Just this month, on Sept. 4, one type of solar storm, called a coronal mass ejection (CME), erupted from the sun, according to the National Space Weather Prediction Center. CMEs fling charged plasma and magnetic fields from the sun's surface toward Earth, where they cause fluctuations in the planet's magnetic field. Migratory animals like sperm whales, birds and sea turtles all use the geomagnetic field to navigate.
The possible culprit for last year's sperm whale stranding seems to have occurred around the period of Jan. 8 to Feb. 4, 2016, when 29 male sperm whales (Physeter microcephalus) were found dead or dying on the shores of Germany, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands. Autopsies on 22 of the whales revealed that the animals were well-nourished and had no signs of illness, according to the new research paper published in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

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