Severe solar storms could be causing healthy marine animals to lose their way, leaving them stranded on land by the hundreds.
Scientists have launched an investigation on the mysterious phenomenon that has caused whales, dolphins, and porpoises to end up beached along coastal areas around the world.
While human-made influences, like the use of sonar-type equipment, could play a role in interfering with their internal compasses, researchers say the real driving force is likely more extreme.
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Severe solar storms could be causing healthy marine animals to lose their way, leaving them stranded on land by the hundreds. Scientists have launched an investigation on the mysterious phenomenon that has caused whales, dolphins, and porpoises to get stuck along coastal areas
THE IMPACTS OF SOLAR STORMS
If Earth’s magnetic field was hit by charged particles from a solar storm the effects could include:
– Electric grid disruption
– Radar interference
– Solar cell damage
– Telecommunication cable disruption
– Pipeline corrosion
– Loss of synchronisation of global internet
– Airline passenger radiation
Stranding events can effect as few as three or as many as several hundred animals at once.
And, they’re more likely to happen in New Zealand, Australia, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
‘These locations share some key characteristics, such as the geography, gently sloping beaches, and fine-grained sediment, which we think all play some role in these events,’ said project collaborator Katie Moore, the director of IFAW’s global Animal Rescue Program.
Researchers have long suspected solar activity may contribute to this bizarre phenomenon, but this is the first time it’s being studied in depth.
Numerous other explanations have been proposed as well, with some suggesting the use of multi-beam sounders and other instruments used to map the seafloor or locate potential fishing sites are messing with their internal compasses.
‘However, these human-made influences do not explain most of the strandings,’ said NASA heliophysicist Antti Pulkkinen.
‘Theories as to the cause include magnetic anomalies and meteorological events, such as extreme tides during a new moon and coastal storms, which are thought to disorient the animals.
‘It has been speculated that due to the possible magnetic-field sensing used by these animals to navigate, magnetic anomalies could be at least partially responsible.’
During a solar storm, the sun ejects giant bubbles of charged particles.
This is known to interfere with Earth-orbiting satellites and power grids, as the particles slam into the magnetosphere.
Stranding events can effect as little as three or as many as several hundred animals at once. And, they’re more likely to happen in New Zealand, Australia, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A beached humpback whale calf is pictured in Alaska
And according to the researchers, it may affect animals as well.
‘The type of data that Antti has accumulatd, together with the extensive stranding data at our disposal, will allow us to undertake the first rigorous analysis to test possible links between cetacean mass strandings and space-weather phenomena,’ said Desray Reeb, a marine biologist at BOEM’s headquarters in Sterling, Virginia.
Researchers are now conducting a massive data-mining operation, with funding from BOEM and NASA’s Science Innovation Fund.
‘We estimate that records on the order of hundreds of cetacean mass strandings will be available for study, thus making our analyses statistically significant,’ Pulkkinen said.
‘We therefore expect that we will be able to reliably test the hypothesis.
‘So far, there has been very little quantitative research just a lot of speculation. What we’re going to do is throw cold, hard data at this.
‘It’s a long-standing mystery and it’s important that we figure out what’s going on.’
The study is expected to run through September, and could provide new insight on the mysterious phenomenon.
‘The results of this study will be informative for researchers, stranding network organizers, resource agencies, and regulatory agencies,’ Reeb said.
‘If we understand the relationship between the two, we may be able to use observations of solar storms as an early warning for potential strandings to occur,’ added Moore.
‘This would allow stranding responders in global hotspots, and really around the world, to be better prepared to respond, thus having the opportunity to save more animals.’