In 2016, 29 Sperm Whales were stranded far from their route causing deaths among their numbers. New findings suggest that Solar Storms that cause the northern lights could also be responsible for the strandings.

The solar storms and Northern Lights are considered uncommon geomagnetic disruptions and they can confuse the navigation of sperm whales. In the 2016 incident, many of them ended up in shallow waters because of the confusion. Unfortunately, some of the lost whales died while attempting to find their way back to sea.

Behavior and navigational skills

A study was published in the International Journal of Astrobiology. Scientists were surprised because young, healthy and well-fed whales had died.

In addition, why and how they got stranded were also a mystery to scientists at that time.

Initially, researchers attributed the weird behavior to climate change that diverted the whales to shallow waters, which eventually led to their death but there is no evidence found to support this theory. Normally, sperm whales thrive in deep waters of the ocean and so far, the largest number of their population was spotted in the eastern Atlantic.

Some behavioral and navigational patterns were observed as the animals mature. When they reach 10 to 15-years-old, young male whales start to travel to the polar region in the north to find food. They chase squid that thrive in colder waters. Traveling whales can reach the UK and they are naturally capable of returning to back home using the same route. During this period, some of them end up getting lost in the sea.

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Mysterious confusion

The incident in 2016 when 29 mature sperm whales got stranded in shallow waters surprised scientists. The animals had traversed around Germany, UK, France and the Netherlands. This prompted a couple of studies aiming to find out what drove them away from their route.

Almost a year after the incident, researchers claim that they now know what happened. Experts say that the animals rely on the planet’s geomagnetic field to navigate and unusual geomagnetic field activity was likely the cause of their confusion. To find their way, the sperm whales detect weaker and stronger signals and use them as their own version of maps.

At the time of the incident, there were huge solar storms recorded that disrupted the Earth’s geomagnetic field, changing the whales’ natural map. Coronal mass ejections from the Sun cause the storms that are charged with high levels of particles and radiation. When solar storms hit the atmosphere it causes what is popularly known as the northern lights.

Aside from confusing the navigational skills of some animals, the solar storms also cause other disruptions such as jamming some communications and satellite systems. Other scientists also believe that solar storms affect the navigational skills of bees.