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Recently the Blue Whale Challenge has been in news for all the wrong reasons. The Blue Whale Challenge is a 50-step challenge; where in the last step is committing suicide. The horrific challenged is named after the phenomenon of beached whales, which is an equally interesting phenomenon.

 

What is this phenomenon? Every year up to 2000 cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) strand themselves on the beach and die due to dehydration or collapsing under their own weight or drowning when the high tide covers their blowholes. The phenomenon occurs among individual cetaceans and in groups, although most of the stranding is individual. It seems as if the cetaceans are committing suicide. But why would they so? After all they are not complex self-destructive creatures like human beings.

Although the exact cause of the phenomenon is not known, experts have listed down few of the probable causes.

Navigational Errors

Many a times whales end up on the beach due to navigation errors.

·      Some sandy beaches may not send back echolocation signals back to the whale leading them to believe they are in deeper water. Combined with a fast dropping tide, these whales can be left stranded on the beach

·      Many whales use geomagnetic contours to navigate and when these contours cross a beach, whales following these contours may end up stranded on a the beach.

·      The creatures also commit navigational errors due to the use of sonar underwater by humans. They get confused and might beach themselves

·      Sometimes they land up on the beach following a prey or trying to protect themselves from predators.

·      Unfamiliar configuration or  weather patters may also cause navigational errors.

Injuries

Cetaceans might also end up on the beach due to their injuries caused naturally or by human activities. Analysis of beached cetaceans, have shown many of them often have injuries. Collision with vessels can cause injuries like broken teeth and jaws, flipper dislocations ore factures, deep lacerations, etc. Use of sonar underwater also affects their hearing, communication and navigation abilities. Seaquakes are another cause of injury. They can have devastating effects on the cetaceans impacting their navigation skills and leading to beaching ultimately.

Old and diseased

The old and diseased are many times unable to resist heavy swells or inshore currents landing up on the beach. Human activities like dumping of pollutants in the sea also cause the cetaceans to become diseased. Another reason is overfishing, which leads to shortage of food among the cetaceans leaving them malnourished and capable of committing navigational errors.

 

Pregnancy

Calving whales seek shelter to give birth to their young. Sometimes when they come to close to the shore, they might end up stranded.

Social Bonding

Although most of the beaching is individual, time and again mass beaching has also been recorded. The mass beaching can be attributed to the strong social bonds between some of the species. For example, one or two whales might be stranded initially sending out distress signals consequently. Following the distress signals the rest of the whales in the social group might end up stranded.

Death is inevitable and sometimes nature has strange ways of taking lives away. But we as human being should not meddle with nature and restraint from the kind of behavior that harms the environment in merciless ways.

Thank you for reading and I hope you ponder upon the thought.

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