Scientists Wildly Puzzled by Hundreds of Pilot Whales Beaching Themselves in Mass Groups

By: Alec Donaldson | Last updated: Oct 27, 2023

Scientists have struggled to explain a remarkable incident that occurred on a Western Australian beach. Lying helplessly on the sand was a pod of nearly a hundred pilot whales that had left the comfort of the seas to beach in the shores.

The scientists were also surprised by the puzzling behavior the whale’s showed before approaching land.

Whales Stranded at Shore

The incident began when government workers, volunteers, and scientists were summoned to rescue 103 pilot whales at as early as 7 a.m.. The whales had slumped on the Cheynes beach and were about to give up.

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They were long-finned pilot whales 13 ft long and weighing up to 2,200 lbs. The team of over 160 rescuers quickly got to work. Their job was to pull the massive animals back to sea.

The Team Finds Little Success

It was clear to the rescuers after several hours that their plans weren’t working. At first, they tried to roll the whales back to the sea and nudge them to swim away.

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Some rescuers poured buckets of water over the whales still at shore to revive them, but to no avail. During these attempts, a tractor hauled dead whales to dry sand for scientists to examine. By this time, over 50 whales had perished.

The Whales Act Strange

As researchers examined the remains of the deceased whales, they had one question in mind: “Why did the whales beach themselves?” They knew it was highly unlikely they were fleeing a predator.

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Drone footage had captured the pod gathering some 150 meters away from the shore before they beached. They crowded themselves together to form a shape that looked like a heart before advancing to the beach.

Scientists Had Never Seen Anything Like It

While beaching isn’t a new phenomenon, marine biologists have failed to explain it. We do know pilot whales have strong social bonds with other members of their pods—it one falls ill and swims to the beach, the others will follow.

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What made this case unique was the brief meeting the whales had in shallow waters before deciding on suicide. We continue to look to the scientists for answers.