Whale stranding just like dolphins and porpoises stranding is a disturbingly common mysterious phenomenon that puzzles scientists for decades. They are healthy, yet somehow end up getting stranded in coastal areas worldwide. What causes the loss of their sense of direction which led them to an agonizing death? NASA scientists conducted in-depth research on this matter. The answer might be – the sun.

The large numbers of whales, dolphins, and porpoises found dead or stranded around the world’s coastlines each year are often helpless, and usually, die within a few hours or days

People, magnetic field or solar storm?

Up to this date, the largest whale stranding was on the coast of Patagonia – even 375 death whales. Similar happened last year on a South African beach and in India. Those who were still alive, even after help to get back to the sea, they ended up again on cost. Reports have shown they were very disoriented. What caused this? Different theories arise.

The first idea was that the people actions provoke disorder in cetaceans orientation. This includes entanglement if fishing gear and marine debris, being struck by ships, and even being harassed by well-meaning beachgoers. Although this indeed might be the cause of some deaths, still it is not the explanation of massive strandings.

The second theory involves Moon’s gravitational influence. As coastal storms and huge tides occurring during the full moon, this could mess up animal’s navigation system and drag them to the shallow waters.

When the sun, Earth, and the moon are located more or less on a line in space – the range between high and low tides is greatest. Image credit: physicalgeography.net

Although these theories make sense for occasional deaths, NASA scientists were not convinced that explains the type of stranding that we see. They started from the fact that these animals use the magnetic field to navigate. What causes the mess with Earth’s magnetic field? Of course, the sun. To be more specific – solar storms. These storms are a massive burst of solar wind full of cosmic rays which hit Earth’s magnetosphere. The first line of defense is a magnetic field. If the storm is strong enough it can disable satellites and GPS navigation. Although, we are mostly protected, sometimes crack in the magnetic field appears – like the one in 2015.

The artist’s illustration shows how events on the sun change the conditions in near-Earth space. Image credit: NASA

Scientist now will collect more data to confirm this research. They believe that solar storms are not the unique cause of stranding as there can be few more reasons. However, they are hoping, after the verification of this theory, they will be able to prevent at least some of the whale strandings.