new atypical mass stranding of Cuvier’s beaked whales

A new atypical mass stranding was reported early this morning in the waters around the Greek Island of Corfu, as announced by Dr. Alexandros Frantzis through the MARMAM mailing list (see message below). Of course the event has generated great concern through the scientific community. You can follow the evolution of the situation through the MARMAM discussion list.

Dear all,

Once more we have bad news regarding Cuvier’s beaked whales in the Ionian Sea. The local population unit, which has repeatedly been affected by NATO naval activity (last time in February 2011 east of Sicily) may be steadily heading towards its extinction…

Today 30 November 2011 at least three Cuvier’s beaked whales stranded alive and atypically in west Corfu, along 23 km of coast. All whales were led offshore by people who tried to rescue them. One whale died some 200 m offshore. Another whale, after having swam some 600 m offshore, returned and stranded once more (if this wasn’t a different animal). It was led once more offshore after the sunset, so no further information is available so far. The third animal was not seen after it was “rescued”.

I would like to draw your attention on two “peculiarities”:

1) Independent rescuers in two different stranding areas, reported that they were hearing “whistles” while approaching the single animals. The “whistles” were heard even out of the water at a distance of 100 m from the animal (!), and became much louder when the rescuers entered the water to approach the animal. The rescuers kept hearing the “whistles” until they left the place, two hours after the death of the unique whale present! They thought that there might be other whales calling the stranded animal from further offshore, although they could observe nothing for hours.

Two independent rescuers (separated by 23 km) described these “whistles” as “emission”-pause of 10-15 seconds-“emission”-pause and so on. I wonder if what the rescuers were hearing was the probable sonic cause of the stranding. If you have a similar experience or knowledge, please share it with us.

The rescuers didn’t see any military or seismic survey vessels from the shore. A fisherman from the area said that today he saw an “unusual” research vessel offshore that he believes (it is known in the area that seismic surveys have started or are about to start) was performing research for oil.

2) The whale that died 200 m offshore was found at about 3-4 m depth at an unusual position (to me at least). Its flukes were on the sea bed while the beak and part of the head of the animal was out of the water! For some reason the head could float at surface and the animal never sunk. Does anyone has an explanation?

Unfortunately no necropsy was performed to the animal that died.

The port-police authorities and local volunteers have been alerted and we just hope that tomorrow we won’t find more animals along the coasts.

Repeated use of military sonar and now growing seismic survey activity go on in an area that is critical for the two deep diving Mediterranean species, the Cuvier’s and the sperm whales. In 2007 ACCOBAMS officially proposed the creation of a MPA for deep diving cetaceans in the eastern Ionian Sea (Hellenic Trench), but nothing has happened so far.

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8 thoughts on “new atypical mass stranding of Cuvier’s beaked whales

  1. david says:

    Just wondered if any new surveying ships were in the area that the proposed wind farm plan off Corfu could have any impact on these poor Cuvier’s whales ie a new whale was stranded off Arillas this week but has since died.

    • Thanks David for your inputs. One thing is not clear to me in your comment: what do you mean with surveying ship? there were some engaging in geo-seismic surveys but I’m not aware of any other surveying vessel. Talking about wind farms and cetaceans there is a bit of concern on this issue but exhaustive proofs and correlation of real damages and wind turbines are not yet described. On this subject i have posted something months ago that could be of interest for you: “Offshore wind farms may kill whales” and “Offshore wind farms may kill whales – part 2“. Talking about the Cuvier’s beaked whale that washed ashore in Arillas, it has already been reported by Dr. Alexandros Frantzis from the Pelagos research Institute; in fact, it is one of the wales described in Dr. Frantzis original message to the MARMAM discussion list. Thanks anyways for your support.

  2. Thomas Ferrari says:

    David,

    Nearly every beaching around the globe since 1996 has occurred within 24 hours of a geomagnetic storm in Earth’s magnetosphere.

    In your case, reported on 30 November 2011, a major geomagnetic storm lasting 12 hours happened on that very same day!

    A whales magnetic “compass” sense gets “messed up” during a storm and if t\hey are near land, beaching’s result. It happens all the time…

    Dr. Tom

    • Dear Thomas,

      Many thanks for your contribution. As you sayd strandings can be caused by geomagnetic anomalies, but certainly we can not say that these anomalies are the only forces driving cetacean beaching. In fact, the causes of cetacean strandings remain largely unknown (Simmonds 1997, Geraci et al. 1999, Goold et al. 2002, Bradshaw et al. 2006),although many hypotheses have been advanced. These have included pathology (Jauniaux et al. 1997, Lambertsen 1997); meteorological and oceanographic disturbances such as hurricanes (Mignucci-Giannoni et al. 1999); navigation failure related to use of the Earth’s geomagnetic field (Klinowska 1985a, b, Kirschvink et al. 1986, Klinowska 1988, Kirschvink 1990; but see Brabyn & Frew 1994); changing solar activity (which might temporarily influence the geomagnetic field or, over longer periods, the sea surface temperature; Vanselow & Ricklefs 2005, Vanselow et al. 2009); electrical storms (Robson & van Bree 1971); the effects of lunar cycles (Wright 2005); confused navigation arising from bathymetric conditions (Brabyn & McLean 1992, Woodings 1995, Chambers & James 2005); distraction by activities such as foraging (Wood 1979); large-scale climatic events (Evans et al. 2005) or temperature anomalies influencing prey distribution (Pierce et al. 2007); and anthropogenic encroachments such as intensive sound disturbances (Simmonds & Lopez-Jurado 1991, Frantzis 1998, Balcomb & Claridge 2001) and contaminants (Bouquegneau et al. 1997, Joiris et al. 1997, Evans et al. 2004), which may either cause or contribute to strandings (Geraci et al. 1999). While any of these hypotheses may be relevant as
      causes or concauses, depending on situation, Whitehead (2003) noted that whales stranding en masse are not brought to the beach independently because of some common external factor: strandings clearly have a strong social component, which may prompt healthy animals to follow sick or confused ones onto a beach (‘doing as the group does’; Whitehead 2003).

      • David,

        I repeat: EVERY single cetacean beaching in the world since 1996 (when the NOAA/SWPC geomagnetic record began) has happened during a major geomagnetic storm in Earth’s atmosphere.

        No other theory, including those mentioned in your reply and references, has such a perfect correlation. I repeat: NONE

        Certainly, we can now say that these “magnetic” storms are the major force driving cetacean disorientation and strandings, based on their perfect statistical correlation.

        In fact, the cause of most cetacean standings is know known.

        Dr. Tom Ferrari, PhD

      • Here are a few examples for your examination.

        Incident North Sea Geomagnetic
        # Beaching Date Country Storm Date * 3-hr.Storm Data*
        1 Dec. 24, 2003 Italy Dec. 22, 2003 2 2 5 6 5 5 3 3
        2 Nov. 05, 2003 Greece Nov. 4, 2003 3 3 5 7 3 2 4 2
        3 Jun. 24, 2003 Greece Jun. 24, 2003 4 4 6 6 6 5 2 2
        4 Apr. 24, 2003 France Apr. 24, 2003 3 3 4 5 6 6 4 3
        5 Apr. 14, 2003 France Apr. 14, 2003 3 3 2 5 3 5 3 3
        6 Oct. 03, 2002 Greece Oct. 3, 2002 5 2 4 4 6 6 7 4
        7 May 17, 2002 Greece May 17, 2002 1 0 1 0 5 1 1 1
        8 Apr. 27, 2002 Greece Apr. 28, 2002 3 2 6 4 5 4 3 2
        9 Apr. 16, 2002 Greece Apr. 17, 2002 2 4 6 7 6 7 6 4
        10 Apr. 12, 2002 Italy Apr. 12, 2002 4 1 5 5 5 2 2 2
        11 Mar. 26, 2002 Italy Mar. 24, 2002 4 5 7 6 6 7 3 3
        12 Mar. 03, 2002 Greece Feb. 28, 2002 1 2 3 4 5 2 3 4
        13 Feb. 07, 2002 Croatia Feb. 7, 2002 3 3 4 6 5 2 1 2
        14 Oct. 25, 2001 Greece Oct. 23, 2001 7 4 3 1 3 2 1 0
        15 Jul. 23, 2001 Algeria Jul. 23, 2001 3 3 1 2 5 3 2 2
        16 Jul. 12, 2001 Italy Jul. 11, 2001 5 5 2 0 2 1 1 1
        * numbers greater or equal to 5 are considered major storms. Geomagnetic activity
        is recorded in three hour intervals.

        Beaching World Wide Animals Storm
        Date Location Beached Date 3-hr Intensities
        1 3-Oct-97 Karikari, New Zealand. 53 1-Oct-97 2 3 6 7 8 5 2 0
        2 10-Oct-97 Karikari, New Zealand 19 9-Oct-97 2 3 5 5 2 2 1 1
        3 4-Feb-98 Tasmania, Australia 65 31-Jan-98 2 1 0 2 5 3 5 2
        4 29-Jul-98 Aguadilla, Puerto Rico 5 29-Jul-98 (missing data)
        5 15-Mar-00 Bahamas 17 14-Mar-00 1 1 2 5 3 2 0 0
        6 29-Jul-02 Dennis, Mass. USA 50 27-Jul-02 3 3 3 5 4 4 2 2
        7 24-Sep-02 west African shore 12 19-Sep-02 2 2 2 3 5 6 1 2
        9 19-Oct-02 New Zealand ? 16-Oct-02 3 1 0 2 2 3 6 3
        10 8-Nov-02 Tasmania 9 7-Nov-02 3 2 3 5 5 3 3 1
        11 29-Dec-02 Australia 20 29-Dec-02 1 2 3 6 5 3 3 1
        12 21-Nov-03 Aukland, west coast 12 21-Nov-03 4 6 6 4 4 4 4 2
        13 26-Nov-03 St. Martin, Caribbean 36 25-Nov-03 3 3 3 5 6 5 2 1
        14 26-Nov-03 Point Hibbs, Australia 120 25-Nov-03 4 3 3 5 6 5 2 1
        15 5-Dec-03 Norddeich, Germany 1 5-Dec-03 3 5 7 6 7 6 4 5
        16 2-Mar-04 ?? 70 2-Mar-04 4 3 6 4 6 6 2 2
        17 26-May-04 Jakarta, Indonesia 50 23-May-04 2 2 4 6 3 2 3 2
        18 3-Jul-04 Hanalei Bay, Hawaii 150-200 1-Jul-04 2 3 5 6 3 3 2 2
        19 10-Jul-04 N. Territory, Australia. 54 1-Jul-04 3 3 5 6 3 3 2 2
        20 29-Nov-04 N. Isl. Beach, N. Zeland 75 28-Nov-04 2 3 6 3 4 4 2 2
        21 29-Nov-04 King Island, Australia 80 28-Nov-04 3 3 6 3 4 4 2 2
        22 29-30-Nov-04 Australia, Tasmania 200 30-Nov-04 3 3 3 5 4 4 4 3
        …and the list goes on and on…
        ______________________________________________________________________

        There are more than 100 beaching/storm correlations and references since 1996. Remember, some of these places are remote beaches (e.g. Tasmania) and finding stranded animals often takes a day or two.

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