107 WHALES BEACHED, 65 HUMANS DEAD

New Zealand straddles two tectonic plates on the southeastern rim of the Ring of Fire, a ring of volcanoes and earthquakes that form a large circle in the Pacific Ocean. New Zealand experiences about 15,000 earthquakes each year.

Only a few close friends are aware of my fascination with natural disasters, namely earthquakes. Over the past two years I have been obsessively tracking earthquakes by magnitude, frequency, and historical records. (iPhone has some great earthquake apps) All this despite my lack of interest in undergrad Natural Disasters. A class in which I vividly recall snickering through the lectures at the professor’s oddities alongside my best friend Walton and miraculously scraping by with a passing grade. You can’t say “low and behold” that many times in one lecture and expect people to kindle a sense of anticipation each time.

Reveal myself through this blog is not something I set out to do, but I’m currently half way into season two of Dexter and it just feels semi-therapeutic.

According to The Southland Times, two tourists discovered a pod of 107 pilot whales beached at the southern end of Mason Bay on Stewart Island, New Zealand on Saturday (February 19).

“It was Sunday before the tourists could raise the alarm via the hut ranger at Mason Bay hut.”

Flash back to September of 2008. I was in Costa Rica, again with my best friend Walton. We camped two days and two nights on a remote coastline where swarms of wild vultures pecked away along a stretch of beach littered with dead sea turtles. Isolated by 13 kilometers of jungle and river-crossings, it was as real as it gets. Raw nature. The lonely stench of life passing away in silence. There was no explanation and I wasn’t looking for one.

“Two Department of Conservation staff immediately flew to the beach to assess the situation. Once there, they found the whales in water but stranded high up on the beach with the tide just starting to recede. Department biodiversity program manager Brent Beaven said about half of the whales were still alive on arrival and the decision was made to euthanise the remaining 48. It would have been at least 10 to 12 hours before any attempt could be made to refloat them, Mr Beaven said.”

Earthquakes & Whales, related? Not one of the articles explained why 107 pilot whales beached themselves, so I took it upon myself to become the expert on mass beachings, pilot wales, and the motion of the south Indian ocean.

There are many theories for mass beachings and you might find it interesting that there are only 10 species who mass beach. Popular theories range from poor echolocation and disruption from naval sonar to herding by dominant species and following food sources. While all of these theories have merit in many instances, it’s the most controversial theory that I am most committed to.

Shifting tectonic plates can cause the Earth’s magnetic field to change. Changes in the Earth’s magnetic field can cause navigational errors for migratory animals including whales and birds.

Since 2004, the most popular theory has been disruption due to an increase in the use and strength of naval sonar. While this may explain an increase in the total number of beachings per year, records will show that beachings have been occurring throughout human history. (See painting above circa 1598; pretty certain they didn’t have sonar back then)

The records will also show a strong correlation between mass beachings and earthquakes of large magnitudes. There have been more large magnitude earthquakes in the past decade than there have ever been in the past century. The New Zealand incident is no different and it’s not the largest incident. It’s just the most recent. Less than 48 hours after the mass beaching of 107 whales on Saturday a 6.3 earthquake crumbled the town of Christchurch killing 65 people at 4:35 a.m. Monday morning.

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