Why Some Gray Whales Get Lost When Migrating
Tue, April 20, 2021

Why Some Gray Whales Get Lost When Migrating


Gray whales usually migrate from March to June, swimming north from the coast of Baja California, Mexico, to the Bering and Chukchi seas, north of Alaska. They make their return trip south beginning in November. But, scientists have long observed that the whales strand while en route. To investigate this, Jesse Granger, a conservation biophysicist at Duke University in North Carolina, and her colleagues reviewed gray whale stranding data from the US West Coast between 1985 and 2018.



Credits: Wikimedia Commons


The findings of the study were recently presented at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting. The team found out that healthy gray whales have been stranding far more often than we thought. The animals are nearly five times more likely to strand when there is a high prevalence of sunspots, areas that appear dark on the surface of the sun. While sunspots can cause a large increase electromagnetic radiation -- which can disrupt the whales’ journey -- most of that radiation doesn't make it to our planet’s surface. 



Credits: Wikimedia Commons


One of the explanations that the researchers provided is the possibility that whales can make a navigational error when something disrupts the magnetic field or the whale's ability to detect it such as a solar storm. According to Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, our culture and history, the researchers discovered that there was a 4.3-fold increase in the likelihood that a whale would strand on days when there was high radio frequency (RF) due to solar storms, compared with low RF noise.



Credits: Live Science


The findings suggest that the whale's magnetic receptor or ability to read its map of the area could be the reason why whales take a detour. "It's a fascinating finding. There have been several previous reports linking magnetic storms to whale strandings, but this is a particularly well-done and convincing analysis," Kenneth Lohmann, a biologist who studies magnetoreception at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said. 



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