Earth's Journal

Biosphere Journal Entry

Whales Stranded in Australia (December 1, 2003)

sperm whale

Photo of sperm whale by Keith Mullin courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ten sperm whales stranded on the shores of Finders Island, part of the Australian state of Tasmania found south of the mainland. Nine of the whales died. The tenth was towed out to sea by rescuers using a fishing net. It managed to swim to the safety of deeper waters.

Last week, more than one-hundred pilot whales and ten dolphins died in another beaching in Tasmania.

The reasons for whale beachings are not always clear. In some cases, the mammals may be chasing prey too close to shore. Some beachings have been linked to a heart ailment. Some stranded whales have been found with enlarged and weakened hearts.

Other research links beachings to infections with parasitic worms that may affect the mammals' navigation systems. In recent years, some whales appear to have stranded from high-energy sonar tests that may disorient them and damage their ears.

Sperm whales are the largest of the world's toothed whales. They can measure up to 60 feet (18 meters) in length. The whales live in deep waters and can dive as deep as two miles (3,200 meters) for two hours.