Solar storms may have caused beaching of whales: Scientists

Sep 6, 2017 12:29 IST
Solar storms may have caused beaching of whales: Scientists

A group of German scientists have said that solar storms could have been the reason behind the mass beachings of sperm whales in countries around the North Sea in the year 2016.

Between January and February 2016, twenty-nine sperm whales washed up on German, Dutch, French and British shores, surprising scientists after only 82 previous beaching of sperm whales had been documented since the 1990s.

The research was published in August 2017 in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

Key highlights

Klaus Heinrich Vanselow, a marine biology expert at the University of Kiel in Germany, studied the connection between whale strandings and two major solar storms that took place at the end of December 2015.

The solar storms, which create the Northern Lights phenomenon, could also have caused the world’s magnetic field to shift by up to 460 km which would interfere with the whales’ sense of orientation.

The above statement explains why the whales swam into the relatively shallow North Sea rather than follow their traditional routes in the Atlantic where they would find it easier to correct their direction.

As per Vanselow, “if whales enter the North Sea they cannot navigate back as it’s an unnatural environment for them and very shallow. However, if they were in the Atlantic then they could.”

Whales would have been unprepared for misleading signals from magnetic shifts because they spend their early years in areas where solar disruptions are weak, such as the waters around the Azores islands in the Eastern Atlantic.

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What are solar storms?

Solar storms occur when the Sun emits huge bursts of energy in the form of solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

These phenomena send a stream of electrical charges and magnetic fields toward the Earth at a speed of about three million miles per hour.

When a solar storm strikes the Earth, it often produces northern lights display in parts of the atmosphere that can be seen in areas close to the Arctic Circle.

Solar storms also have the power to disrupt satellites and various forms of electronic communications.

Source: The Hindu

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