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Attempting Suicide? Why Whales Strand Themselves to Death

May 17, 2016 09:10 PM EDT
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Twenty four of 27 short-finned pilot whales died recently after coming ashore in a beach near San Felipe, Mexico.

Environmental protection agency Profepa reported that despite their overnight efforts to try to bring them back to the waters to save them, only two adults and a calf survived.

The 15-hour rescue operation took place from 3 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday. Despite the efforts to of the local officials bring the whales back to the deep sea, the whales perished. Mexico News Daily reported that the whales kept on coming back ashore despite their efforts to bring them back to the water. The low tide also made their rescue operation harder, LA Times noted.

Pilot whales, are known as one of the most common whales to strand themselves to death by putting themselves in shallow waters.

Strandings can involve a single whale or a whole group called "pod," and some even appear to be deliberate.

Marine biologists and experts assert some reasons why certain marine mammals beach themselves.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) theorizes that whales with beak nose such as pilot whales may be disoriented by the sonar waves such as those used by U.S. Navy to detect submarines. However, there have been no specific studies showing how exactly in affects them.

Another theory is that mammals go ashore when they are ill or injured. When they suffer pain inflicted by nets or predators, they take refuge ashore, but eventually get trapped because of the shallow waters. Parasitic illness may also target their central nervous system resulting to their confusion.

Global warming, food search and pollution also force these mammals to go ashore.

The statement speculated the pilot whales in Mexico were disoriented, saying no signs of injuries were noted. It also took note of the "strong social cohesion" of the species, meaning they do not leave others of their kind even if it means death.

Because whales are highly social creatures that travel in pods, some mass strandings may occur when they refuse to desert a sick or injured individual member.

According to Marinebio.org, there are an estimated 1 million long-finned pilot whales and approximately 200,000 short-finned pilot whales worldwide. Some of them are hunted for their meat, bone and oil while others are held captive in some areas.

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