HomeEnvironmentAn Enigma of Nature or Not?

An Enigma of Nature or Not?


The enigmatic natural world around us constantly poses questions, and sometimes these questions are left unanswered for eons together. When I read the article on the incident that took place in Tuticorin on Monday, I was faced with one such image: the beaching of one of the greatest mammals on Earth, the whale.

Beaching of whales is a phenomenon where a group of whales swim ashore and strand themselves on land, usually on a beach. Throughout history, scientists have not been able to pinpoint an exact reason as to why whales leave the depths of the ocean, swim towards the shore and lay on a beach in such great numbers. It is common to find beached whales often dying due to dehydration. This past week, several short-finned pilot whales have been reported to be found on a beach near Tuticorin, in Tamil Nadu. On Monday, 81 of the whales were stranded, and, unfortunately, 45 of them could not be saved. Fishermen, helped by officials, used mechanized boats to float the remaining whales back towards the ocean waters, but a large number of the whales returned on their own. These whales were said to be severely disoriented, which makes matters even stranger.
Throughout history, several such incidents have taken place, but till date, scientists and researchers have not been able to determine the cause for this strange phenomenon.

Reason One: The Earthquake

Whales are some of the most well-known animals, apart from bats, who use echolocation to find food, to stay away from danger and to find their way around the ocean. Each sound or echo created by the animal bounces off several objects in its surroundings to give it information such the distance and size of objects around it. The whale is said to have such highly developed echolocation that it can navigate its way even with its eyes closed, and still detect the smallest moving object.
It is possible that two earthquakes measuring 6.5 and 6.9 off the coast of the Philippines and Indonesia could have disoriented the whales and lead them towards the shore. This is a theory which must be considered as the shockwaves from the earthquake could have easily travelled through the ocean waters and intercepted/disturbed the whales’ highly sensitive sound system.

Reason Two: Sonar or A Death Trap?

It is a well known fact that the Indian military, specifically the Navy, has employed sonar systems undersea which relay information about any possible enemies approaching the area. Several other uses for this sonar technology are also known which is why the Indian Ocean is said to have several different sonar systems. It is possible that, like the earthquake waves, the waves from this man-made system could have disoriented and intercepted the whales’ echolocation system.
However, this prediction is unlikely to be the cause, as the last time a mass beaching took place in the Tuticorin area was in 1973; if the sonar system was the cause of the beaching, then expected, other breaching would have recently taken place. However, this prediction cannot be completely written off, because pilot whales are highly social creatures. Even if the sonar intercepted one of their sound systems, that particular whale would be disoriented and a large part of the group would be sure to follow it towards the shore. It is also important to note that sonar systems have interfered with whales, and have sent them on suicide missions in the past. In February 2015, almost 200 pilot whales were stranded on a beach in New Zealand’s South Island, and the reason for this mass beaching, was supposedly, the New Zealand military’s underwater sonar systems. Given the parallelism between the two recent breaches, this could be a probable cause for the death of the whales in Tuticorin as well.

Reason Three: Man (Nature’s Greatest Enemy)

In recent history, scientists have noticed a large rise in the number of beachings of whales. It is unclear as to whether this increase is a genuine increase in the number of beachings or if it is just an increase in the number of reported whale beachings. If this is a genuine increase, then it can be reasonably inferred that man’s vast exploitation of the open ocean can be a reason as to why this great mammal is inching towards being extinct, some day. One plausible cause of these frequent beachings is due to the increase in man-made materials and chemicals which is causing greater pollution in the ocean. This can lead to these mammals being born deformed and mentally impairing  healthy whales. In this case, that the emissions from a nuclear plant near Tuticorin could have easily affected their nervous systems, and thus, disoriented them. These emissions could have interfered with the whales’ normal brain activity, made them sick and forced them to flee to the safety of shallow waters where they ended up beaching themselves. This disorientation could be the reason as to why the whales kept returning to the shore even when the fishermen dragged them back into the ocean.


What needs to be done is a complete check of the dead whales to see any clues as to why they suddenly swam to the shore can be identified. Government funding should be given towards research into the reasons for beaching, along with the effects of sonar waves, nuclear radiation and specific chemicals on the minds and bodies of whales. We do not have any right whatsoever to exploit the ocean to an extent where its natural inhabitants suffer because of our greed. The whale is one of the most enigmatic, majestic and captivating animals in the world and our duty is to protect/respect it in its natural habitat.
We need to take a stand and protect this marine mammal as fast as we can. Whether or not the beaching took place due to environmental pollution is unclear, but a firm universal law must be established with respect to the exploitation of the ocean. We may be improving our homes on land, but this improvement and development must not be at the cost of an animal’s life. Caring for our environment and this magnificent mammal is our responsibility and we must follow through on this promise.

[Image Attribute: Angelo_Giordano]

Previous post
Each One, Reach One: Campaign to End FGM
Next post
The Tremor’s Terror: The Increase in the Frequency of Disasters is Our Own Doing