Monday 20 January 2020

Solar Storms Might Be Causing Gray Whales to Get Lost

Strandings of healthy gray whales increase with the prevalence of solar storms.

AUSTIN, Texas — Migrating animals that live in Earth's oceans may have a closer relationship with the sun than we thought. New research shows that healthy gray whales are nearly five times more likely to strand when there is a high prevalence of sunspots, and therefore high levels of radio waves emitted from solar storms. The researchers presented their findings here at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 7). 

"It's a fascinating finding," Kenneth Lohmann, a biologist who studies magnetoreception (or how animals detect Earth's magnetic field) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Live Science in an email. "There have been several previous reports linking magnetic storms to whale strandings, but this is a particularly well-done and convincing analysis," said Lohmann, who was not involved in the study.

Scientists are unsure if whales use magnetoreception to navigate, but migratory whales, such as gray whales, are likely candidates because the ocean provides few other navigational cues, said study lead author Jesse Granger, a conservation biophysicist at Duke University in North Carolina. 

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