There have recently been 29 cases of sperm whale strandings in Europe, six of these off the shore of the UK. Experts believe this is the highest number of strandings since records began back in 1913, and cases are rising. While some years ago we could expect to see an average of one whale stranding per year, this has now jumped up to six. Why is this happening?
There are lots of theories with regard to why more whales are getting stranded on our beaches every year. Some experts believe that the ban on whaling over the past 30 years has seen numbers rise, perhaps resulting in an upturn in strandings. Other experts believe a rise in human activity at sea is to blame, contributing towards whales getting hit by vessels, tangled in fishing nets, or being disorientated by the noise of naval exercises, sonar, or even wind farms.
Although the recently-stranded whales did not appear to be suffering from starvation, sometimes whales − especially males, as in these cases − may travel further afield in search of food. Whales are at home in the Atlantic; however, if they enter the North Sea, the shallow sandy seabed can impair the whale’s sonar function used for navigation. This can cause disorientation, increasing the chances of them being washed up on a beach.
Sadly, once a whale is stranded, there is frustratingly nothing that anyone can do. The mammal’s sheer weight crushes its internal organs and even if the tide times indicate it could get back out to sea, too much damage may have already been done to save it.
People have been flocking to the beach to view the stranded whales; however, experts are warning onlookers to keep at a safe distance for their own safety and to check tide times before heading out.