Beached: Why Whales End Up On Maharashtra’s Coast

Why do so many whales end up stranded on the western coast?

2 min read
A woman takes a selfie in front of a dead whale on Juhu beach. (Photo: AP)

Last week, fishermen came across a 47-foot whale, splayed on the beaches of the Ratnagiri district. The creature, a 20-tonne blue whale, lay on the beach for two days before forest officials, local community members and NGO volunteers were able to pull the animal into deeper waters.

This was the second whale rescue in Ratnagiri this year, another whale died on Juhu Beach on 29 January. Last August, a 42-foot whale died in Alibaug.

The whale is brought back to deeper waters. (Photo: PTI)
The whale is brought back to deeper waters. (Photo: PTI)

Beaching is a world-wide phenomenon that has perplexed scientists for decades. And because many species of whales travel in groups, the body count can be high. Earlier this year, around 120 short-finned pilot whales washed up in Tamil Nadu. At least 45 died while the rest were safely returned to the ocean.

Some research suggests sonar pulses, used to track submarines, can disorient whales as they make their way through the vast depths of the oceans. But this seems to be only one part of the picture. Beaching appears to be happening more and more frequently, so there must be other factors at play as well, research suggests.

A study of beaching on the coast of Mumbai found that the moon may also play a role in the large number of sea mammals that find themselves trapped on the beach. The moon alters tides around the world through its gravitational pull, so changing currents could also disorient whales and dolphins, according to to the Myvets Charitable Trust & Research Centre. Most beaching occurs around the full and new moons, an analysis from the centre revealed.

Washed up sperm whale. (Photo: iStock)
Washed up sperm whale. (Photo: iStock)

Many whales don’t survive being beached -- their organs are crushed under their weight. They can also die at high tide if their blow-holes are covered and they can’t maneuver their way back into the deep.

It’s only a matter of hours before a stranded whale dies, so every minute of a rescue counts.

(With inputs from Indian Express, Hindustan Times and Times of India)

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