Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 June 2016
The beaching and stranding of whales and dolphins around the world has been mystifying scientists for centuries. Although many theories have been proposed, few are substantiated by unequivocal statistical evidence. Advances in the field of animal magnetoreception have established that many organisms, including cetaceans, have an internal ‘compass,’ which they use for orientation when traveling long distances. Astrobiology involves not only the origin and distribution of life in the universe, but also the scientific study of how extraterrestrial conditions affect evolution of life on planet Earth. The focus of this study is how cetacean life is influenced by disturbances in its environment that originate from an astrological phenomenon – in the present study that involves solar flares and cetacean beachings. Solar storms are caused by major coronal eruptions on the Sun. Upon reaching Earth, they cause disturbances in Earth's normally stable magnetosphere. Unable to follow an accurate magnetic bearing under such circumstances, cetaceans lose their compass reading while travelling and, depending on their juxtaposition and nearness to land, eventually beach themselves. (1) This hypothesis was supported by six separate, independent surveys of beachings: (A) in the Mediterranean Sea, (B) the northern Gulf of Mexico, (C) the east and (D) west coasts of the USA and two surveys (E and F) from around the world. When the six surveys were pooled (1614 strandings), a highly significant correlation (R 2 = 0.981) of when strandings occurred with when major geomagnetic disturbances in Earth's magnetosphere occurred was consistent with this hypothesis. (2) Whale and dolphin strandings in the northern Gulf of Mexico and the east coast of the USA were correlated (R 2 = 0.919, R 2 = 0.924) with the number of days before and after a geomagnetic storm. (3) Yearly strandings were correlated with annual geomagnetic storm days. (4) Annual beachings of cetaceans from 1998 to 2012 were linearly correlated (R 2 = 0.751) with frequency of annual sunspot numbers. Thus, consistently strong statistical correlation evidence indicates that an astronomical phenomenon – solar flares – can cause cetaceans to change their behaviour and become disoriented, which eventually causes them to swim onto a shore and beach themselves.
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