It's a mystery that's confounding marine biologists -- why are so many whales washing up dead on European shores? At the end of January, five sperm whales washed up on the beaches of Lincolnshire and Norfolk in the United Kingdom. A sixth one beached and died this week, The Guardian reports. This followed 12 sperm whales washing up in Holland and Germany last month.
The cause is unclear. In the North Sea, where the Holland and Germany strandings took place, and on England's east coast, beached whales are rare. The beaches along the North Sea see about six whale strandings per year, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.
Typically a whale that is sick, or another one that might have accidentally been stranded while searching for food, will wash ashore. But with mass beachings, something else may be going on. In these instances, scientist are theorizing that toxins floating in the waters, a noisy ocean, and even injuries could be playing a role.
A team of veterinary scientists and marine biologists are performing autopsies on some of the beached whales to better understand what might have caused their deaths. Right now, early results show that these giant mammals were not injured by collisions with ships.
Andrew Brownlow, of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, told PRI.org that one main theory is that these creatures were chasing their main prey, squid, and simply got lost. He made the comparison to a person losing his or her way while walking through a dense forest or a thick fog.
"You can see the trees that are immediately close to you but you don't get a feeling for the landscape, and I suspect that played a role here," he said.