Large solar storms, responsible for the northern lights, may have played a role in the strandings of 29 sperm whales in the North Sea early in 2016. A new study says these geomagnetic disruptions may have confused the whales' ability to navigate, diverting them into the shallow waters. Trapped and lost, the whales died on European beaches, attempting to escape. The research has been published recently in the International Journal of Astrobiology. Researchers have been puzzled by the losses as autopsies showed that the animals were mainly well fed, young and disease-free.
The colorful displays of light called auroras might be linked to the deaths of more than two dozen young whales in northern Europe. Researchers suggest the same solar storms that cause the auroras, which are also known as northern lights, would have created disruptions in Earth's magnetic field that could have confused sperm whales and led to 29 of them becoming stranded in early 2016. "Whales' magnetic sense may play an important role in orientation and migration, and strandings may thus be triggered by geomagnetic storms," according to a study in the International Journal of Astrobiology. If their magnetic sense was thrown off, they could have become lost before getting trapped in the shallow water and died while trying to escape. The marine victims washed up from the North Sea -- located off the northern Atlantic Ocean -- onto the shore in Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain and France between early January and February of last year.
Things might get weird on Earth over the next few days, following some intense solar activity. Even though the sun is reaching the point in its 11-year cycle of activity during which it is supposed to have the least activity, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spotted solar flares this week that were some of the most powerful possible and sent radiation shooting toward us. The sun also burst out with coronal mass ejections, streams of particles that can gush in the direction of Earth. Both of these kinds of discharges can wreak havoc on our satellites and have other effects on our planet. On Wednesday, the space agency reported, the sun erupted in a solar flare shortly after 5 a.m. EDT and then again around 8 a.m., with the SDO capturing images of both.
A gray whale stranded in Point Reyes Station, California. New research suggests solar storms could temporarily disorient the animals. Gray whales migrate more than 10,000 miles up and down the western coast of North America, longer than almost any other mammal. In summer, they head north, often as far as Alaska's Aleutian Islands, and in the winter, they travel south, giving birth off the coast of Mexico. New research suggests that solar storms may temporarily interfere with their ability to navigate on these long treks, perhaps even leading them to become stranded.
Solar storms cause grey whales to get lost at sea and become stranded more often, according to researchers. Experts from Duke University in North Carolina studied 31 years of data on grey whale strandings from 1985 to 2018, as well corresponding solar activity. The findings suggest that the relationship between migrating animals and the Sun may be closer than previously understood, says researcher Jesse Granger. They found that healthy grey whales were nearly five times more likely to become stranded when there is a high number of sunspots and increased solar activity. The team say this could be due to the solar storms disrupting the whales' ability to detect the Earth's magnetic field, causing them to steer off course.