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Solar Storms Could Be Driving Hundreds of Whales to Death

Feb 07, 2017 10:15 AM EST
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NASA is currently finding answers as to why healthy whales and other sea creatures end up stranding themselves to death. One of their hypotheses is that solar storms are driving these creatures off shore.

According to the scientists at NASA, severe solar storms confuse these animals' internal compasses, which is why they lose their way. Solar storms are caused by massive bursts of harmful cosmic rays from the sun that are fired at Earth's magnetosphere.

Over the years, it has been suspected that these animals' navigation ability is disrupted by multi-beam echo sounders and other sonar-type equipment. But as mentioned by NASA scientists, beaching in relation to magnetic disturbance has not been explored comprehensively.

"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," said Antti Pulkkinen, study leader and an expert in space weather and its effect on Earth.

"Indeed, magnetic anomalies caused when the sun's corona ejects gigantic bubbles of charged particles out into the solar system can cause problems for Earth-orbiting satellites and power grids when they slam into Earth's protective magnetosphere. It's possible they could affect animals, as well," Pulkkinen added.

CBS News notes that though their study would not necessary determine if there is really a link between solar storms and beaching, it would be the first one to look closely into their relationship.

Katie Moore, collaborator in the study and director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Animal Rescue Program 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," Moore said. "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."

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