Frequently Asked QuestionsStrandings naturally provoke many questions. Please read our answers below and be warned that our position differs different compared to mainstream explanations.
Why do whales strand?
First, we must distinguish live strandings from dead strandings, since the causes are strikingly different. Dead animals that wash ashore are often victims of bycatch, disease, old age, and boat strikes, among other possible causes. By contrast, live strandings have different underlying causes that can be separated into the natural and the manmade. We have created a separate page with explanations of the differences between live and dead strandings that you can access here.
What is a live stranding?
Live stranding simply means that a live dolphin or whale has stranded. Live strandings must be distinguished from dead strandings, the latter of which means that animals have died offshore, and their corpses have washed ashore. In our opinion, the causes for live and dead strandings differ greatly, hence the need to distinguish them. In some cases, however, dolphins or whales wash ashore alive and die there, and since they are found much later, these instances represent some ambiguity, especially in areas that are remote and/or difficult to access.
Is Navy sonar the only anthropogenic activity that can cause live strandings?
No. Documented evidence reveals that though sonar can cause strandings, sonar has also been the most widely investigated anthropogenic activity. In short, any human activity that introduces noise into a marine environment can cause strandings, be it rockets, missiles, low-flying aircraft, explosives, Big Oil seismic surveys, or hydrographic surveys, among others. When we hear that sonar use was ruled out as a cause, we always question what else has occurred in the area apart from sonar tests.
Media and rescue crews typically report that if a whale or dolphin strands, there must be something wrong with the animal. Is that true?
No. Though live strandings occur for various reasons, 90% of live stranded cetaceans are not beyond help. We have data showing that in many cases necropsy cannot pinpoint any significant ailment, even though rescuers and officials insist that all stranded cetaceans are sick. These data also show that prompt rescue and medical attention can significantly improve the animals’ chances of survival. Here are just a few examples of success stories.
But it is true that some stranded alive cetaceans are sick.
However, most animals that strand are not sick, or else have some temporary ailment that they can recover from on their own and live strand for unknown reasons. To complicate the issue, diagnosis on the beach is difficult, especially when there is no visible trauma or injury. In short, the modern approach in which rescuers and/or officials declare that animals have stranded because there is something wrong with them is appalling. Most often, this approach incites people to kill the animal in order to conduct a necropsy. This ‘kill first, diagnose later’ approach must stop.
Why should we bother rescuing stranded whales and dolphins? Doesn’t it represent nature at work?
We think that rescuing stranded whales and dolphins is conservation in actions, though rescuers and officials do not see it this way. Though roughly 300 years ago strandings were deemed to be natural, such is not the case today. Today, strandings are known to be directly caused by human activities (e.g., by navies and Big Oil) or indirectly (e.g., by overfishing and herding animals into areas that they typically avoid). We therefore no longer have any reasons to argue that live strandings are natural occurrences. It is both discouraging and appalling when stranded whales are euthanized, as they were in New Zealand; therefore, people must strive to save and rescue every live stranded cetacean. They face too many manmade challenges as it is, and it is our responsibility to reduce or undo the centuries of negative effects due to whaling, bycatch, overfishing, pollution, and other forces destructive to marine life.
What evidence do you have to argue that anthropogenic activities cause live strandings?
We do not have direct experimental evidence to argue that anthropogenic activities cause live strandings, since researchers do not—and for ethical reasons, will not—recreate live strandings under controlled experimental conditions. However, we do have documentation of several instances of fully investigated live strandings for which at least one anthropogenic reason was named as a likely cause. One problem is that 90% of live strandings are not fully investigated. Full investigation includes detailed necropsy of most, if not all, of the animals and seeks all kinds of evidence, including that of embolism and acoustic trauma, among other things. These investigations also include detailed reports of all anthropogenic activities in the vicinity. An example of one such investigation can be accessed here. We have data showing anthropogenic activities occurring before and/or during stranding (see our 2013 report). Another problem is that navies, Big Oil, and their supporters argue that whales do not strand every time anthropogenic activity occurs. We believe these strandings do not occur, because in order to trigger a live stranding, several factors must cooperate, one of which is that whales and/or dolphins must be in the vicinity. Unfortunately, the complexity of strandings and all of the above factors allow Big Oil and navies to conduct their activities unchecked and without consequences. Typically, when all arguments have been exhausted, agents of these organizations can always fall back on the reasons that “whales stranded in Aristotle’s time” to justify their deeds time and again.