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​What is Whale Stranding?

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We look at this unexplained phenomena amongst marine mammals...

Whale stranding, also known as cetacean stranding, is a mysterious wonder humans are still trying to get their head around. The strange occurrence involves whales being washed up onto a beach or shore. Stranding usually results in death for these creatures of the sea due to various circumstances. They include collapsing on their own weight, dehydration or drowning through their blowhole.

This peculiar phenomena has been recorded throughout time however, scientists and marine biologists are yet to conclude with a definitive explanation as to why it happens.

Whale strandings have been evident throughout history and occur quite frequently in Australia. This mysterious, but yet ghastly spectacle is common around the southern and western coastlines of Australia and also prevelant around Tasmania.

Last year, there was a mass stranding in Western Australia involving 18 pilot whales. Previous to this incident, seven sperm whales died due to a stranding in South Australia. Tasmania’s whale strandings have appeared to be the most intense, with 177 sea animals washing up on shore in a single incident.

According to the Australian Department of the Environment's website, some of the theories include; whales dying at sea and resulting in being washed up onto shore, disorientation from the marine animals due to following prey into shallow water, the shape of the coastline directing them in the wrong direction and whales being lead onto shore by predators.

Upon research, the main theories for whales beaching themselves, include navigational errors, hunting too close to shore, rough tides and weakness due to injury or old age, which encourages whales to swim towards shallow waters with others following suit.

Another speculation from marine biologists as to why whale stranding occurs is due to the increase of chemicals and pollution ending up in our waterways. This may lead to deformities within marine animals, leaving them mentally impaired. The aftermath of these toxic chemicals, result in the weakening of marine mammals and may contribute to some of the above theories.

Cetacean strandings generally involve common dolphins, oceanic dolphins, pilot whales, or sperm whales. Coincidently, these species all have teeth, unlike filter-feeding whales. We wonder if that has anything to do with this mystery…?

If you come across whale stranding, call local authorities or the whale hotline immediately.

Photograph: Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service