Underwater Quake or Volcano Behind Whales Washing Ashore?

As more than 30 whales died despite rescue efforts on Tuticorin beach, the officials said it was deja-vu of 1973 when 140 whales washed ashore. In 2009, South African coast saw similarly 55 whales beaching ashore as if they were on suicide mission, refusing to go back into waters.

Mass strandings of dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals were first mentioned in the writings of Greek philosopher Aristotle, meaning they may be a natural phenomenon, but of late, environmental activists have suggested that human impacts of pollution, shipping noise and, in some cases, military sonar have led to a rise in such “suicide” frequencies.

Experts, meanwhile, attribute the deaths due to underwater disturbance from an earthquake or volcano. However, US Geological survey has not recorded any earthquake in the vicinity. While a volcano in the region is only located in the southern tip of Andaman and Nicobars, it remains to be seen whether there is any underground volcanic activity.

“It appears the whales are in shock. It mainly happened due to unusual activity deep inside the sea,” said a scientist with the Chennai-based Central Marine Fisheries Institute, who rushed to the village for an on-the-spot assessment of the cause.

While whales beaching on the shore is not rare, huge numbers washing ashore is a rare phenomenon, they said.
A forest department official said there were injury marks on the dead whales hinting at some “high intensity” underwater activity, which could have happened hundreds of kilometres away and the whales may have been washed to the coast because of the tide, said one official.

Darlene Ketten, a neuroethologist and expert on hearing in marine mammals at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, Massachusettes, concurs with Aristotle when he said: “We should understand causes of stranding, but we also have to accept the fact that strandings may be in many cases natural phenomenon.”



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