ICELAND – 50 dead pilot whales were discovered washed up on a remote beach in Iceland, and environmental experts found themselves shocked at the sight and without words for a potential cause for the tragic event.
The whales were initially discovered by a passenger plane flying over the shore of Longufjorur, with the pilot noting that the number of 50 was a rough estimate; there may have been even more, he said, due to the fact that some of the mammoth beasts were already buried in sand.
While experts are investigating the incident and are currently at a loss as to what could have caused the mass beaching in this instance, one theory is that the whales could have perished due to extreme dehydration. When wildlife experts arrived at the beach by helicopter, four of the beached whales were discovered to still be alive.
Pilot whales are known for becoming stranded in large numbers, with the reason why this typically happens currently not completely understood; some researchers from the American Cetacean Society attribute this to their extremely social nature. The mammals often swim in tightly-packed groups, they say, and can become confused and disoriented easily in shallow waters.
Group stranding tends to be of mostly healthy individuals; the “pod“ (as a group of pilot whales are known) may be following a member of high importance that got stranded and a secondary social response makes them keep returning. Researchers from New Zealand have successfully used secondary social responses to keep a stranding pod of long-finned pilot whales from returning to the beach.