How Storms on the Sun Interfere With Whale Migration
by Theresa Machemer/Smithsonianmag.com
In recent years, gray whales have gotten stranded on beaches more frequently—possibly driven by a combination of disease, starvation, naval sonar and seismic air guns used for oil exploration. Now, researchers may have identified another unexpected factor that leads gray whales to shore: solar storms.
Solar storms, also called geomagnetic storms, happen when the sun lets loose a burst of intense radiation and charged particles. These events manipulate the Earth’s magnetosphere, which usually deflects most of what the sun emits. Intense storms can even mess with Earth’s magnetic field, causing disruptions to radio communications and GPS satellites. Likewise, animals—like songbirds, sea turtles and spiny lobsters—that rely on the magnetic field to navigate is affected by these solar tantrums.
Gray whales migrate mostly by sight, but some scientists suspect they could also navigate by magnetism—though evidence to support this theory is inconclusive, reports Douglas Main for National Geographic. In a study published this week in the journal Current Biology, researchers may have found a link between gray whale strandings and solar storms, which may warrant further investigation into gray whales’ abilities to sense Earth’s magnetic field.
But doing so is easier said than done. To tell whether