Mass Whale Strandings: what is behind the recent spate of ‘suicidal’ urges?


In July, a group of long-finned pilot whales stranded on Traigh Mhor beach, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, marking one of the UK’s largest mass stranding events (MSE). Most whales died before responders arrived.

Responders managed to refloat one whale, which survived. Others were euthanized due to their condition.

Samples were collected from all whales for organ and tissue analysis, providing unprecedented insights into the whale community.

Mass strandings are rare and can be caused by various factors like predator evasion, tidal traps, or disorientation due to human activities.

According to Dr. Andrew Brownlow, drowning due to stranding was the main cause of death for the stranded pilot whales.

Human impact on marine ecosystems, including noise pollution and pollutants like heavy metals, is increasingly linked to mass stranding events.

Despite thorough examination, no physical injuries, ingestion of plastic, or evidence of naval exercises causing trauma were found in the whales.

Pilot whales are highly social, living in tight-knit family groups. This social cohesion can lead entire pods to strand together.

Pilot whales exhibit complex cultural behaviors, such as caring for their young and elderly, and passing down knowledge within their pods.

Mass strandings highlight conservation challenges faced by cetaceans globally, from environmental threats to direct exploitation like hunting.

These points highlight the complexity and urgency of understanding and mitigating mass stranding events among pilot whales and other cetaceans.