Geomagnetic disruptions caused by vast solar storms that create the Aurora Borealis is believed to have been behind the multiple strandings of massive sperm whales in the North Sea at the beginning of last year. It is thought the storms affected the ability of the mammals to navigate effectively and they swam into shallow waters, got lost and then died after becoming trapped on various beaches and shorelines.
Speculation about what had caused the strandings was rampant at the time, with theories ranging from poisoning to climactic change as being behind the deaths of the whales, which were generally young, fit and well fed – not the usual stranding victims.
Sperm whales live in deep, warm-to-temperate waters all around the world, but between the ages of ten to 15 years old, young males are drawn north towards the polar region, attracted by the vast shoals of squid which frequent the colder waters. They usually follow the west coasts of the UK and Ireland as they head north, returning the same route, but in less than a month in early 2016, 29 sperm whales were found dead or dying on the shores of the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands.
According to a report published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, Dr Klaus Vanselow, from the University of Kiel in Germany, believes he and his colleagues may have the answer. They think that sperm whales navigate using anomalies in the Earth’s geomagnetic field, much the same as we read contours on a map, and that these huge solar storms distort this field, causing the mammals to veer off course and become lost.
Scientists already have some evidence that solar storm activity can impact the navigational abilities of bees and birds, so it is entirely plausible that their assumptions are correction, however, it would be extremely difficult to prove that the storms were responsible for the whale strandings.