SUICIDE - Why do whales beach themselves???!!! WHY?

Discussion in 'Earth Science' started by Nebuchadnezzaar, Jan 13, 2003.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Like most mammals, whales are very buoyant. It does not take much energy for them to keep their blowholes above water so they don't drown. The reason they dive is not that their mass drags them down, it's because that's where they find their food.

    Of course they're not as buoyant as seabirds with their hollow bones, who can fall asleep and stay nicely perched on top of the water. An unconscious whale could very easily drown. They solve the problem of sleep by having each brain hemisphere sleep separately. I've always wondered if when one wakes up they have to do some furious communicating to catch up on the news.
    What makes you think that they always head for land? The fact that this is where we find them? How many die in the ocean and sink to the bottom where we'll never find their corpses?
     
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  3. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    Right. I was just speculating that maybe they are already sick or hurting before they beach. I was just wondering if there is some instinctive response to head for land, although it's also odd that they are also seen heading toward fresh water. I do suppose that they usually die at sea, but since the act of beaching seems more driven than just being lost, I was speculating that perhaps there is an instinct behind it.
     
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    This hypothesis has been suggested. I would think that by now a few autopsies would have been performed, but I suppose that's quite a challenging assignment.
    Finally after decades of guessing that the cetaceans were descended from seals or other mammals, DNA analysis yielded the shocking revelation that they are in fact artiodactyls: even-toed ungulates like cattle, sheep, camels, pigs, giraffes, antelope, deer... and hippopotamuses. In fact they are precisely descended from primitive hippopotamus-like creatures who swam all the way down the river into the open sea and decided they liked it there. Somewhere along the way they broke with tradition and became carnivores.

    So it's not unreasonable to suppose that they might have an atavistic instinct to follow a flow of freshwater back to the mouth of a river when they feel themselves becoming too weak to swim.

    Footnote: This discovery is a major disruption in the classification of mammals and the taxonomy has not been finalized. Originally some authorities demoted Cetacea from an order to a family within the order Artiodactyla, but that didn't work because the baleen whales (Mysticeti) and the toothed whales or dolphins (Odontoceti, which also includes the sperm whale) are too different to be simply subfamilies. Today they have renamed the order Cetartiodactyla, but they're still in a muddle about what to do next. Wikipedia shows a suborder or superfamily named Cetancodonta that includes the cetaceans and hippopotamuses.
     
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  7. mooseantlers Registered Member

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    Yes, whales have always beached themselves, whales are very intelligent and emotional creatures, and some close relatives are very social, lots of true whales actually are quite social. Just on a long scale through their songs and what not. And I think an animal that is social and is intellgent enough to feel. They can also feel depressed and also, have suicidal thoughts, and subsequently would be intellegent enough to beach themselves.
     
  8. RichW9090 Evolutionist Registered Senior Member

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    The cause of whales beaching themselves might be a whole lot of things.

    However, we have almost no data bearing on this problem at all, in order to forumlate, let alone test, any hypothesis.

    What data we do have, from marine mammal stranding stations around the world, does not seem to evince any patterns at all - no common factors.

    There is no data that suggest these strandings are getting any more common - they are just much better reported today than 100 years ago.

    There is some data to suggest that the abundance of whale skeletons in the fossil record, particularly from the Miocene on (about the last 25 million years) may be a reflection of the same stranding phenomenon.

    Rich
     
  9. keith1 Guest

    The OP is not buying it, but not selling it either.
    The data points instead to a yet to be determined cause.

    By correlating the locations of beaching on a large world map, perhaps one could see some patterns related to man-made causes. Or perhaps patterns of past migration pathways programmed, but no longer able to traverse, because of the ongoing crustal movements of continental drift.
     
  10. RichW9090 Evolutionist Registered Senior Member

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    There has been very little change in the continents since long before the Miocene - and since the begining of the Miocene, the only major change has been the opening of the land bridge between North and South America.

    But yes, mapping may show a pattern (but hasn't so far); autopsies don't seem to show any consistent pathologies, and the strandings don't seem to be related to major shipping corridors.

    Rich
     
  11. deafwhale Captain D. Williams Registered Senior Member

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    Why do whales beach themselves? BAROSINUSITIS!

    Barotrauma in the air sinuses of their heads is the cause of 90% of all strandings of marine mammals worldwide. Barosinusitis is a diving-related injury caused by exposure to rapid and excessive changes in the surrounding water pressure during a dive.

    Since the air sinuses serve a major function in both sound production and reception, a whale, or a family of whales, suffering from barosinusitis would lose their sense of direction

    Assume that some sort of upheaval, like a navy sonar or other high-energy acoustic device, seismic airgun array, explosion, undersea earthquake, volcanic eruption, or meteorite impact has happen and caused a series of severe pressure oscillations in the water surrounding a family of diving whales. If exposed to rapidly changing external pressure while diving, the air in their heads will expand and contract in direct proportion to the changing water pressure (Boyle's Gas Law). The volume of air in the sinuses could easily be squeezed to 1/4th normal volume as the pressure phase crosses over them. When the vacuum phase passes a microsecond later, the volume of air in the sinuses would quadruple.

    Assuming the frequency of these pressure oscillations at 10 cycles per second, and the duration of disturbance at 15 seconds, the volume of air in the sinuses would bounce back and forth from a 400% increase to a 400% decrease, 10 times per second for 15 seconds (150 times in 15 seconds). Because the air in the enclosed air spaces compresses and expands rapidly during the passing of the disturbance, while bodily tissues, blood, and bones do not, strong pressure differentials develop at air-filled interfaces causing shear forces that tear, bruise, and disrupt tissues, membranes, and small blood vessels. The sinuses might then fill up with blood and the air escape into the surrounding tissues. When such a disaster happens to a pod, each whale loses its ability to dive and feed itself along with its sense of direction.

    It also stands to reason that a pod of lost, injured whales would group together on the surface for protection against sharks. The question is: where would the average man expect to encounter a pod of whales suffering from barosinusitis? The simple answer is on the beach.

    If the water was calm like the surface of a small pod, the lost pod would swim in random directions, like a group of lost people wandering around on a desert. But the dynamic ocean is rarely calm. Surface currents would present much greater resistance when the lost whales tried to swim in any directions except downstream. It's the path of least resistance—always taken by lost objects moving through a system. For example, water flowing downhill follows the path of least resistance. Storms travel on the path of least resistance by flowing toward zones of low barometric pressure, where lower air density offers less impedance than does higher pressure zones.

    Thus, without a sense of direction, and no land marks to guide them, the lost pod will always swim downstream with the flow of the surface currents.

    The current might guide them into the open sea, in which case the average man would never see them. On the other hand, the surface currents might also guide them towards land, in which case they would eventually swim into a beach. Why a beach? Because the current guiding the whales is the same energy that carried each grain of sand to build the beach in the first place. Wherever current washes ashore, you find a beach, along with seaweed, plastic jugs, coconuts, and beached whales. Where current does not wash ashore you find rocks and no flotsam and no stranded whales.

    David Williams
     
  12. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Incorrect. All directions are as easy to swim in no matter what the current. The whale will cover more ground swimming with the current than against it, of course. But just as a pilot cannot tell which direction the wind is coming from without instruments or ground measurements, so the whale cannot tell which direction the current is coming from.

    The net current flowing into land is zero. The only exceptions to this are openings in that land (which of course really isn't land.) Things like river mouths which cause a current away from a beach or the opening of an estuary that causes an inward current during a rising tide.
     
  13. slavenenco Registered Member

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    I also agree that man made machines emit radio signals that confuse them
     
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Do radio signals confuse you? Most organisms have no way to sense them. We can only detect electromagnetic radiation in the visible (light) and infrared (warmth) spectra, whose wavelengths are eight to nine orders of magnitude shorter than radio waves.

    Even if you postulate (with zero evidence except logic) that the size difference between a whale and a human suggests that whales are receptive to proportionally longer electromagnetic waves (two orders of magnitude at the max), that still puts them far out of the range of microwaves, much less traditional communication signals.
     

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