Whales, whales, whales


A few weeks ago a friend of mine shared this image that a friend of hers had originally posted to Facebook.  The image was not linked to an article and did not cite a source (I have since found that it came from The Sun.  The image sent me down a rabbit hole learning about whale beachings (there have been two large ones since the start of the year one of a pod of sperm whale in the North Sea and the other of a pod of pilot whales of the coast of India.


Some articles posed theories about how and why these animals were beaching  but most said there were no conclusive reasons cited yet.  It seems that it conducting complete narcopsies for whales is timely and expensive.  The reports for 21 pilot whales beached in Scotland in 2013 were just released in the end of 2015.  That report supported the most likely theory that I had read among the different articles: that the whales had ingested so much mercury over their life times that it had damaged their ability to navigate the waters and resulted in their fatal disorientation.  Most papers reported that sperm whales beached in the North Sea had gotten lost in shallow waters looking for a giant squid and noted that this is often thought to be the reason that whales beach: they get lost in shallow waters and then can not get out or can not find food and die before reaching the shore.


But I wondered why the whales were getting lost and if they were getting lost more often then before.  Wikipedia offered a listing of all the reported beachings of sperm whales since the mid 1700’s but when i graphed this data it seemed erratic.  Then I decided to graph all the reported mass beachings of pilot whales and the steady increase was much more evident.  I dropped the sperm whales from the exercise and decided to focus my data on the pilot whales.

The studies are still inconclusive that increased mercury levels cause neurological damage and disorientation specifically in whales but this damage has been proven conclusively in other high order mammals and one article in National Geographic cited the study of the pilot whales and referenced the possible link between the toxins and the beachings.

As further context I visited the New Bedford Whaling Museum as part of my research and had a nice time talking for a few hours to a docent there.  The museum seemed to target elementary school programs and I think a bit of that aesthetic seemed into my video!

The map that appears in the video is originally from this site.